Top 9 Acetylcholine Supplements to Boost Memory and Cognition
What is Acetylcholine?
Are you having more memory slips than usual nowadays? Thinking slower, less sharp? Then there might be an acetylcholine deficiency you are facing! Don’t worry. This is a great article in which you will learn about –
- Causes of acetylcholine deficiency and whether you need supplementation
- Well-liked medications that increase the need for acetylcholine
- The 3 kinds of acetylcholine supplements — choline-based, herbal remedies, and nutrients
- Possible side effects and recommendations
Acetylcholine is the most prevalent neurotransmitter in the human nervous system. Generally it is known as the “memory molecule” helping you learn, focus, and stay mentally alert. But it also promotes a positive mood while modulating negative emotions like fear and anger. It enhances brain plasticity, a neurological trait that allows your brain to stay mentally flexible throughout your lifetime.
Acetylcholine Deficiency: Reasons for Acetylcholine Supplements
You can consider acetylcholine supplement for many reasons such as for improving your memory now or proactively preserving your memory going forward or overcoming typical signs of acetylcholine deficiency for instance constantly misplacing items, the inability to follow plots and conversations, or ADHD. Actually, acetylcholine deficiency is linked to serious neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, myasthenia gravis, and multiple sclerosis. (1, 2, 3)
Studies show that the brains of Alzheimer’s patients contain only a small fraction of what’s considered to be a normal level of acetylcholine (4) where drugs like Aricept work by blocking acetylcholine breakdown. So you have to consider supplementation when you don’t normally consume foods or follow a low-fat diet or don’t eat eggs or meat that provides the basic building blocks of acetylcholine. However, dietary fat and the choline found in animal foods are needed to synthesize acetylcholine.
Dr. Datis Kharrazian, world-renowned functional medicine expert, explains in his book “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” that the brain starts to literally consume itself in order to get the building blocks it needs to make acetylcholine.
You need acetylcholine supplementation especially when you take any Anticholinergic medications as the Anticholinergics such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, antibiotics, antispasmodics, antihypertensives, and even over-the-counter antihistamines block the action of acetylcholine.
Supplements That Increase Acetylcholine
Since you can’t take acetylcholine directly, you can take cholinergic substances that increase its release by the body, slow its breakdown, encourage its reuptake, stimulate its receptors, or provide the resources to create it. (5) And the best cholinergic supplements fall into 3 main categories — choline-based, herbal remedies, and nutrients.
Below, you’ll also learn about recommended dosages and about a few popular cholinergic supplements that are best avoided.
Choline Enhancing Supplements
Choline is the precursor molecule for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (6) and found mainly in egg yolks, beef, and seafood. (7) An estimated 90% of us don’t get enough choline from our diets for which choline supplementation is required. But not all choline supplements increase choline in the brain or raise acetylcholine levels. (8)
Here’s a look at those that do.
Alpha-GPC (L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine) is considered one of the best forms of choline for raising acetylcholine levels. It is a naturally occurring compound so ideal for human brains that it’s a component in breast milk. (9)
Alpha-GPC enhances memory and cognition and slows the rate of cognitive decline in the elderly. It shows promise as potential for the people who have Alzheimer’s disease (10) and is prescribed in Europe for increasing acetylcholine levels in Alzheimer’s patients. (11)
A typical amount dosage can be 400 mg three times a day used in studies on mental decline. (12, 13)
Citicoline is a choline precursor that increases acetylcholine. (14) It is a naturally occurring compound found in every cell in your body and in particularly high concentrations in the brain. Though Citicoline was first developed to treat strokes, later it was prescribed for age-related cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. (15, 16)
Citicoline improves blood flow to the brain and encourages the growth of new brain cells. (17) It can significantly improve memory, focus, and attention. (18, 19, 20)
Choline Supplements to Avoid
Supplement only labeled “choline” will almost certainly be choline bitartrate because it lacks evidence whether this inexpensive form of choline reliably enters the brain or enhances cognitive functions. (24)
DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) is another precursor to choline found in some brain supplements. It is also a popular active ingredient in skin care products. Though it does increase acetylcholine, studies have failed to show that it improves cognition. (25, 26, 27) However, it’s been linked to neural tube defects and not advised for use by women during their childbearing years.
For these reasons, both choline bitartrate and DMAE are not recommended for raising acetylcholine levels.
Herbal Acetylcholine-Boosting Supplements
There are a surprising number of proven herbal brain boosting supplements that increase acetylcholine. Some of these are so safe that they’ve historically been consumed as food. Still, there are some that should be taken with extreme caution.
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is an adaptogen that has been used for thousands of years as a brain tonic in Chinese and Indian medicine traditions. Adaptogens are herbs that neither sedate nor stimulate but bring the body into a state of balance known as homeostasis. And bacopa accomplishes this by balancing levels of neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin. (28)
Bacopa can offset the memory loss caused by anticholinergic drugs. (29) Bacopa worked even better than the popular smart drug Modafinil to improve memory, accuracy, and processing speed. (30) It is great for reducing stress or insomnia or anxiety.
Bacopa is considered very safe and can even be given to children. (31) A typical dose of bacopa is 50 to 100 mg three times per day. For maximum absorption, take with meals. (32) It sometimes takes a few months to experience maximum benefits.
4. American Ginseng
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is highly regarded for its superior quality and proven effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer. (33) For the utmost brain benefits, look for supplements containing Cereboost, a patent-pending American ginseng extract which increases acetylcholine levels. (34) Clinical trials show that a single dose of Cereboost quickly improves memory, mental clarity, and sharpness within hours after ingestion. (35)
A typical dose of American ginseng or Cereboost can be 100 to 200 mg daily. (36) You can also take American ginseng as a tea or add dried slices to cooked foods.
5. Gotu Kola
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a highly regarded relaxant as well as brain supplement that has been traditionally consumed as a food and tea in Asia to relieve of disorders of the mind including memory loss, mental fatigue, anxiety, and depression. But the Chinese call it “fountain of youth” as it is believed to promote longevity.
Research said Gotu kola increased alertness by 100% and reduced anxiety and depression by 50%. (37) These steroid precursors work much like the drug Aricept to inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine. (38) Gotu kola also prevents the formation of amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. (39)
The recommended dosage for taking Gotu kola for cognitive enhancement is 2,000 to 4,000 mg daily. (40)
6. Huperzine A
Huperzine A is an isolated extract of Chinese club moss (Huperzia serrata), a traditional Chinese remedy for memory improvement. (41, 42) Huperzine A works by blocking the enzyme acetylcholinesterase which breaks down acetylcholine. (43) It is so powerful that it’s used as an approved drug for relieving Alzheimer’s in China. (44)
The general recommended dosage is 50 to 200 mcg taken twice a day. (45) Huperzine A may cause some problems such as digestive upset, anxiety, muscle cramps and twitching, and changes in blood pressure and heart rate. (46) Moreover, Huperzine A should not be taken with anticholinergic drugs like antihistamines, antidepressants, or the Alzheimer’s drug Aricept. (47)
Galantamine (Galanthus caucasicus) is another acetylcholine-promoting herbal supplement which should be taken with caution too. It is used to improve memory, reduce mental confusion, and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. (48)
Galantamine may have the very similar side effects to those of Huperzine A. And there are literally hundreds of medications it reacts badly with as well. (49) You are highly recommended to discuss with your doctor first before starting galantamine.
Other Herbal Acetylcholine Supplements
Besides the above most potent cholinergics supplements, there are many other herbal remedies that exhibit some ability to increase acetylcholine:
- ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) (50)
- holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) (51)
- ginger (Zingiber officinale) (52)
- cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) (53)
- arctic root (Rhodiola rosea) (54)
- turmeric (Curcuma longa) (55)
- saffron (Crocus sativus) (56)
- ginkgo biloba (57)
Nutrients That Increase Acetylcholine
In the last group, you’ll learn about two important nutrients that support acetylcholine synthesis, 1. Vitamin, 2. Amino acid.
8. Vitamin B5
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is one of the B complex vitamins. It is an essential cofactor required to turn choline into acetylcholine. (58) You may sometimes find B5 added to alpha-GPC, citicoline, and other brain supplements.
Unlike most other vitamins, there is no RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for vitamin B5, but the general recommended daily dosage is 5 mg. (59)
Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC or ALCAR) is an amino acid well documented for its ability to improve alertness, focus, mental clarity, and mood. (60) This amino acid is a precursor to acetylcholine and has a similar structure for which it binds with and activates acetylcholine receptors in the brain. (61)
Acetyl-l-carnitine also has fast-acting antidepressant properties, for improving memory loss and depression. (62) However, always avoid the less expensive version, l-carnitine, which cannot enter the brain. (63)
The recommended daily dose ranges from 630 to 2,500 mg. (64, 65) Though Acetyl-l-carnitine is generally safe, it should not be taken with blood thinning medications.
Acetylcholine Supplement Side Effects
Too aggressive with supplementation is always harmful. A common symptom of having overdone your acetylcholine boosting efforts is feeling depressed. (66)
Anecdotally, some people report headaches, muscle tightness and cramps, nausea, and intense fatigue. Be particularly careful with the more potent supplements like huperzine A and galantamine. And take into account that any supplement strong enough to be prescribed as a drug is also strong enough to cause side effects or have negative interactions with other substances.
There’s no doubt that acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter of memory and learning. But diet, medications, and neurological disorders can cause low levels of this important brain chemical. Though there are numerous supplements that can naturally raise acetylcholine levels to keep memory and thinking sharp, remember that these supplements vary widely in their safety and effectiveness.
It’s a good idea – consult your doctor when you are experiencing significant memory loss or are mixing supplements with prescription medications.