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Acetylcholine deficiency – Fight it with Nootropics

acetylcholine and nootropics

Acetylcholine, chemically, is an organic molecule (molecule containing a carbon-carbon or carbon-hydrogen bond). Its function is to behave like a neurotransmitter among humans and other living organisms. Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced inside the body that aid in transmitting electric signals from a neuron or a nerve ending to another target cell across a junction, known as synapse. The structure of the acetylcholine molecule includes an ester linkage between choline and acetic acid and is chemically represented as CH3COO (CH2)2N (CH3)3.

We hear much about vitamins and minerals, but very little about these important phospholipids, including acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine molecules are packaged inside synaptic membrane enclosed vesicles at a nerve ending, from where the molecules are ejected into the synaptic cleft. Acetylcholine molecules then diffuse across the cleft and bind to receptors in the membrane of the target post synaptic cell or neuron. This way signals and triggers are transmitted to render different bodily functions.

Acetylcholine has a crucial role in the central and peripheral nervous systems. It is also the primary transmitter to connect muscles to motor nerves via the neuromuscular junction. Acetylcholine is responsible for cognitive functioning, like memory formation, and muscle movement, coordination and communication by triggering muscle contraction as ordered by the brain. Hyperactivity or hypo-activity of the neurotransmitter can lead to problems and deter proper functioning of the body. To regulate the levels of acetylcholine, our body produces an enzyme called acetlycholinesterase.

This enzyme breaks down acetylcholine to recycle it and stop the electric signals. To further make sure that the levels of acetylcholine do not deplete, inhibitors are present that inhibit the action of acetlycholinesterase temporarily. The entire system is complex and concentration levels of all chemicals need to balanced and regulated carefully. In case there is an irregularity, it can lead to low levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Also, with age, levels of acetylcholine tend to decrease.

Unfortunately, according to a published report titled the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) covering the period of 2003 and 2004, only about 10% of the population has a diet with sufficient amount of choline.  In other words, at least 90% of the population has a diet deficient in choline.  This deficiency is highest among older children, men, women, and particularly pregnant women.  The same survey also found that health care professionals are unlikely to recommend choline to patients or to recognize a deficiency.  Indeed only 6% of OB/GYNs surveyed were likely to recommend increased choline intake to pregnant women or women intending to become pregnant.

Acetylcholine deficiency can have devastating effects on the body. Patients face trouble with forming and retrieving memories. They forget faces, names, and other crucial information. They have a poor span of focus and cannot concentrate even for short period of times.  Their thoughts tend to jumble up and patients remain confused most of the times. Patients show uncontrolled muscle movements and often tremors pass through their bodies. In severe cases, acetylcholine deficiency can lead to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and myasthenia gravis, a muscular disease.  In addition, liver function shows decline in people with a deficiency in acetylcholine and insufficient choline intake in their diets.

courtesy of cholineinfo.org

Thus, it is imperative that proper levels of acetylcholine are maintained. Dietary sources are one way to do that. Egg yolks are a major source of precursors needed for the formation of acetylcholine molecule.  A web site by the name of cholineinfo.org has very good information on the choline properties of foods, including the graphic shown.

While it is preferred to get adequate choline intake from dietary sources, this is not always possible. Nootropic supplements are another way to boost up acetylcholine. They rapidly increase the neurotransmitter’s levels and lead to improved memory and better concentration.

One of the most bio-available forms of nootropic choline is Alpha GPC. L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine or choline alfoscerate, as it is also known is a naturally occuring nootropic that possesses stand alone nootropic benefits as well as being a powerful synergizing compound. It is also found endogenously in our body in small amounts and is manufactured as an extract, a highly purified form of soy lecithin. Lecithin is the brain building nutrient found in eggs, dairy, meat and wheat germ).  Alpha GPC is an intermediate form of acetylcholine, a vital neurotransmitter that is responsible for learning, memory and movement related tasks.

Choline bitartrate is pure choline in a salt form that can be absorbed in the intestines with limited problems. Alpha GPC is also a precursor to choline that goes through several changes in the intestines and while crossing the blood-brain-barrier.  It is not as good at converting to acetylcholine, which should be the goal for any nootropic supplement used as a cholinergic.

Citicoline is also a choline source that, unlike choline bitartate or other choline supplements lower on the food chain, has stand alone nootropic benefits.  In addition to providing the choline support your brain craves, it also has some dopaminergic activity to help with mood and memory. Citicoline is a precursor to both choline and dopamine so increased energy, productivity, motivation and focus may accompany increased levels of dopamine which is the pleasure, wakefulness and reward-feedback neurotransmitter. Dopamine spills out when you feel accomplished or do something you enjoy or love.

Reversible acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, obtained from plants, are extracted and purified as yet another method to obtain the nootropic supplements. Huperzine A is one of them. It is obtained from Chinese moss and is part of many nootropic stacks, including Alpha Brain. Another nootropic supplement extracted from different species of flowering plants is galantamine. It is a powerful nootropic used to treat Alzheimer’s disease but has to be used cautiously and in small amounts.

The usage and dosage of nootropic supplements to treat acetylcholine deficiency are only to be assigned by a medical professional. Great care has to taken when consuming the supplements. If they are taken without consulting a doctor, acetlycholinesterase can be inhibited for long periods of time, leading to a whole set of new problems. Some negative side effects have shown in numerous patients. They include nausea, restlessness, and vomiting and decreased heart rate in some. So it is advisable that people with heart conditions and epilepsy avoid using Huperzine A and galantamine.