Acetylcholine: The forgotten neurotransmitter

Imagine what driving a high-performance race car would be like if there were no brakes. I bet you wouldn’t want to  go very fast, to take turns or to accelerate because without the ability to slow down, you’d be sure to wreck. In order to go fast when we want to, we need to trust that the braking system is working to the best of its ability. That’s why makers such as Ferrari and Tesla spend tens of millions of dollars researching not just ways to accelerate, but also ways to decelerate.

Most people living a modern life seek more rest, deeper sleep and better sex, which are some of the body’s ways of “decelerating.”  The common thread to all these decelerating functions is our forgotten neurotransmitter.  According to the National Academy of Sciences, recent advances in helping treat war veterans and addicts may be bringing this neurotransmitter into the spotlight[1].  The neurotransmitter is called acetylcholine, and it is the human brake fluid.  Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter of the nerve that relaxes the body, the vagus nerve. The combination of the vagus nerve with acetylcholine is what makes the braking system of the body work.

Recently, the National Academy of Sciences found evidence to support war veterans taking choline to help heal the brain from the trauma of war[1].  But anyone who experiences a lot of stress could benefit from this brain-healing compound. Stress causes holes in the brain to form, which causes our brain to go into different ways of thinking that are more reactive, more explosive and less conducive to healthy relationships and strategic planning. Frankly, the modern stress that we experience is killing us. To reverse the effects of this stress and really bring us into a more peaceful, restful place, let’s all consider taking a little bit of choline.

What does choline have to do with acetylcholine? Before we go there, a brief history of neurotransmitters: In the early 1900s, the first neurotransmitter was discovered. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that travels throughout the internet of our body, the nervous system. There are dozens of neurotransmitters, each signaling bits of data, forming the sensations of our bodies and directing the actions of our bodies. This brings us back to the forgotten neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, and its building block, choline.

Choline is the predecessor to acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that reduces vigilance and relaxes the body.  It lowers the heart rate, decreases blood pressure, and restores calm and relaxation to the body. It’s responsible for some of the relaxation and health activities such as resting, sleeping or preparing the body for sex by causing an erection or moistening the vagina. It helps us salivate and blush, and overall it brings us into a rested state and calms us down. Choline is helpful not just for the vagus nerve, but it also helps us clear the liver.

Unfortunately some studies show that we are not consuming enough choline to make the acetylcholine that our bodies need.[2] Choline is similar to a B vitamin and is sometimes found in supplements, but like I said, most people aren’t getting enough of it. There are a couple of ways that we can get a good amount of choline. The most accessible is eating eggs: The yolks are high in choline. Women usually need to eat two eggs a day to absorb enough choline, and men usually need three.[3]  For those of us who are a little more adventurous, beef liver is also high in acetylcholine. Three to four ounces can suffice.  If you’re a vegetarian or want another option, sunflower lecithin is high in phosphatidylcholine.  And finally, some nutritionists recommend taking choline-inositol supplements. Check with your doctor prior to adjusting your supplements.

Consider taking some choline with your next meal! Here’s to a happy, healthy braking system that will help you perform at a higher level.

Sources:

[1]https://www.nap.edu/catalog/13121/nutrition-and-traumatic-brain-injury-improving-acute-and-subacute-health

[2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2654540/

[3]http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/choline

Notes:

I often use these sunflower lecithin pills (amazon) or this sunflower lecithin powder (amazon) in a shake. Some nutritionists prefer using choline-inositol pills (amazon).

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