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Acetylcholine is a hot topic within the realm of memory enhancement. It is a neurotransmitter that is critical for the everyday functioning of the brain, particularly in the areas of movement, learning & memory, and sleep quality. Check out this post to learn how to promote balanced acetylcholine in your body and function at your very best.


Acetylcholine is used by organisms in all domains of life for a variety of purposes. It is believed that choline, a precursor to acetylcholine, was used by single celled organisms billions of years ago, for creating the cell layers [R].

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is used for many things: from stimulating muscles to memory and sleep.

Acetylcholine is synthesized from acetyl-CoA (which comes from glucose) and choline, with the help of the enzyme choline acetyltransferase [R].

Acetylcholine controls movements by causing muscle contractions [R]. Acetylcholine and histamine interact together to contract muscles in the lungs [R].

In the brain, it is involved in memory and attention [R, R], and promotes the phase of sleep associated with dreaming (REM sleep) [R].

Benefits of Acetylcholine

1) Acetylcholine Helps Memory

Too little acetylcholine in the memory center of the brain (hippocampus) has been associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s [R].

Scopolamine, a drug that blocks acetylcholine, impairs acquisition of new information in humans and animals [R, R].

In monkeys, disruption of the supply of acetylcholine to the brain (neocortex, hippocampus) impairs the acquisition of factual information (discrimination learning) and also produces forgetting comparable to amnesia in humans [R, R].

In 1391 people, higher choline intake was related to better cognitive performance (verbal and visual memory) [R].

There is a link between acetylcholine and Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that there is a 90% loss of acetylcholine in the brains of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s [R].

Drugs that increase acetylcholine are commonly used to help treat Alzheimer’s [R].

Acetylcholine may enhance memory by helping encoding new memories and increasing the modification of synapses [R].

In 24 male, choline supplementation (500-1000mg, CDP choline) improved a variety of cognitive processes (including working memory and verbal memory), but only in low cognitive baseline performers (i.e. less intelligent people) [R]. CDP choline works in part by increasing acetylcholine.

2) Acetylcholine May Improve Attention and Alertness

Historically, acetylcholine has been thought to mainly be important in learning and short-term memory functions. However, more recent studies have provided support for acetylcholine’s role of in attentional effort [R].

In rats, acetylcholine helped improve attention and task performance [R].

Sixty healthy adult women aged 40 – 60 who took choline supplements (CDP-choline) for 28 days had improved attention [R].

Acetylcholine is also important for enhancement of alertness when we wake up [R].

3) Acetylcholine Helps Lower Inflammation

Acetylcholine has such a significant influence on decreasing inflammation that it has a pathway named after it: “The cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway” [R].

Inflammatory cytokines are produced by cells of the immune system during injury and infection. These contribute to initiating a cascade of effects which recruit inflammatory cells to the site of infection in order to contain it.

The cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway provides a braking effect on the immune response, which protects the body against the damage that can occur if a localized inflammatory response spreads beyond the local tissues, which results in toxicity or damage to the kidney, liver, lungs, and other organs [R].

Activation of the vagus nerve exerts its anti-inflammatory action via acetylcholine [R].

Decreased vagus nerve activity occurs in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as a result of less anti-inflammatory activity by acetylcholine activation [R].

In animals, increased acetylcholine reduced gut mucosal inflammation (MHC II level and pro-inflammatory cytokines via α7nAChR) [R].

Acetylcholine has been shown to reduce IL-6, IL1B, TNF-a and other pro-inflammatory cytokines in different inflammatory conditions, including IBD [R].

Acetylcholine receptors (α7nAChR) are found on various immune cells (macrophages, monocytes and mast cells), and reduce inflammation by inhibiting their activation [R].

However, acetylcholine (via nAChR) also suppresses production of anti-inflammatory cytokine (IL-10).

4) Acetylcholine Improves Wakefulness

Acetylcholine is one of the main neurotransmitters responsible for wakefulness, in addition to orexin, histamine, norepinephrine, and dopamine [R, R].

Acetylcholine release is increased during wakefulness [R].

In rats, sedative and hypnotics (zolpidem, diazepam, and eszopiclone) alter acetylcholine release [R].

5) Acetylcholine Helps You Sleep Better

Acetylcholine promotes REM sleep, which helps memory storage and for the brain to rest [R].

6) Acetylcholine Helps Gut Movement

Nicotine ( via nicotinic acetylcholine receptors) helps gut flow.

This is why when 1 in 6 people stop smoking, they get constipation [R].

Also, antidepressant drugs are able to inhibit this acetylcholine receptor commonly causes constipation as a side effect [R].

The part of the nervous system responsible for ‘rest and digest’ (parasympathetic) uses acetylcholine to cause these effects [R].

7) Acetylcholine Helps Pain Reduction

Directly activating choline receptors or increasing acetylcholine reduces pain in rodents and humans, while blocking choline (muscarinic) receptors increases pain sensitivity [R].

Higher levels of acetylcholine in the spinal cord causes pain relief, whereas decreasing acetylcholine levels or activity (via receptor blockade) pain sensitivity [R].

Donepezil, a drug that increases acetylcholine, produces a dose-dependent pain relieving effect in humans and is also effective as a preventative treatment for migraine [R].

Activating the nicotinic receptors also exerts anti-pain effects in animal models of acute as well as chronic pain states [R].

8) Acetylcholine Protects Against Infections

Acetylcholine can modulate inflammatory responses. Acetylcholine was shown to have the ability to inhibit biofilm formation during a fungal infection (Candida albicans) in an animal model of infection [R].

9) Acetylcholine Improves Blood Flow

Acetylcholine in the blood increases production of nitric oxide in the blood vessels (via muscarinic receptors), leading to improved blood circulation (vasodilation) [R].

10) Acetylcholine and Hormones

Acetylcholine affects pituitary hormone secretion by acting on the hypothalamus. It causes prolactin and growth hormone to secrete from pituitary glands [R, R].

Negative Effects of Acetylcholine


The association between smoking and depression has been reported in many studies [R].

In chronic smokers, acetylcholine (nicotinic) receptors are increased, rather than decreased, as is often the case with chronic substance use. It could be the increase in these receptors which contribute to the association of depression and smoking [R].

Based on animal models, too much activation of certain acetylcholine receptors (nicotinic receptors -alpha4beta2 or alpha7) may contribute to depression [R, R].

How to Increase Acetylcholine

Supplements for Acetylcholine Deficiency

In order to increase your body’s levels of acetylcholine, you should increase choline levels. Choline can be found in a variety of sources [R].

When it comes to the herbs listed, they increase acetylcholine by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks them down – acetylcholinesterase.  Most common herbs have some inhibitory activity against the enzyme.

Stronger Supplements:

Weaker Supplements:

Decreasing Acetylcholine

A lot of drugs can inhibit acetylcholine, either by imitating it or inhibiting choline [R].

See anticholinergics.



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  • Lou Thomas

    Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors do raise acetylcholine levels, but at a heavy cost of bad side-effects. This is because acetylcholinesterase is the substance the clears acetylcholine from a synaptic juncture after a neuron has fired. With acetycholinesterase inhibited, the acetylcholine clears more slowly after a firing, and the neuron cannot re-fire until that clearing has occurred. Since neuron fires happen with a certain rhythm (and in fact repeated firings are often used to transmit the intensity of a stimulus), some neurons may not be ready to fire when called upon, leading to a variety of ill effects.

    The most extreme example is Sarin nerve gas, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor that is irreversible. All neurons get stuck with that stuff, unable to fire again, with deadly results. The AchE inhibitors used in medicine (e.g., donepezil) are of course reversible and have a less severe effect, and so the side-effects are less horrible, but still not good.

    Alpha GPC (aka choline alphoscerate) is a much safer supplement that effectively raises acetylcholine levels without the side-effects of an AChE inhibitor.

  • Jon

    Do you know if acetylcholine would help with C.F.S & an Under active bladder?

  • DL

    Its not necessarily rare to have normally higher levels of acetylcholine. According to Dr Eric Braverman (The Edge Effect), 17% of people have normally high levels of this neurotransmitter. Those of us with this trait can easily get above the threshold where negative symptoms develop (tightness in neck, overstimulation, sleep problems, and yes memory problems) from dietary sources such as eggs (a source of choline) and potatoes (an acetelycholine esterase inhibitor – this is a substance that inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, with net effect of increased levels of it). So, there are those of us who need to watch out for things that increase it. Since the levels will decrease naturally when avoiding ‘boosters’, when I get too much ACh, I just strictly avoid dietary sources of choline and dietary inhibitors of AChE and I find that the situation corrects itself in a day or so.

  • Lola Oliva Verde

    How does one know if one needs it, or if one has too much of it? These things are not so simple as they sound. I just read that anticholinergics can help cause Alzheimer’s later in life. There are Many drugs that have this activity. They are rated, the worst are Class 3..I am at least one that inhibits acetylcholine, but then I see that I’m on a couple of supplements that raise it! And the damage to the brain from a med can show up Many Years later. Scary stuff. One needs to a chemist nowadays in trying to figure all of this out for oneself. I am 71, so have to extra careful with this stuff, realize now, since seeing that taking things to increase my acetylcholine, goes against what a med might be doing. But for sure, I have read research now, that anticholinergic drugs can have a pretty bad effect on the brain (and as I wrote, there have the drugs listed by class, Class 3 depletes acetylcholine the most, and are the most damaging (and not for Everyone of course, but a percentage of folks, enough so that they are very aware of it now. Thank you.

  • Nicole

    Is this a safe supplement for a 9 year old (80 lbs) to take? If not, are there other similar supplements that would be safe for him?

  • Shea

    You’re welcome, Chelsea!

  • Melana

    One class of drugs that reduces acetylcholene that isn’t mentioned here is anticholinogerics , used for asthma, copd, and other breathing issues. It opens up the bronchial tubes, but the side effects can be developing a tremor, among many others.

  • Gabi Fe

    P.s.Doctor told me smoke as much as cigarettes you can
    I don’t smoke usually. I don’t understand his advice, if Nicotine reduces acetylcholine and I have already to low of it

  • Gabi Fe

    You are right..maybe I need to increse it..I am not sure anymore. I suffer from Complex regional pain syndrome. Prescribed Cymbalta, developed withdrawal, wanted to switch to Fluoxetin, developed the opossite state of withdrawal,called Serotinin syndrome. Had to stopped both abruptly. Since then my brain produces symptoms of ‘high’ serotonin( eyes), exchanging with low serotonin/adrenalin ( withdrawal: nausea,vomiting, myoclonus,litterly dying). 24 hours of pure hell. 18 months. 9 months ago I tried LDN, first I have started getting better( from withdrawal symptoms), then after couple of weeks I jumped again into the opossite state of something ‘serotonin’?!, with the hit in my eyes/ head. Feels like I have toxic level of something in my eyes: burning, eyes jerking,unable to focus picture, extreme photophobia,swollen eyes,flashing in front of eyes, blinking, extreme migraine/ neuralgia type of pain in eyes,around eyes, attacks of trigeminal neuralgia,neck pain..I thought maybe this is excess of acetylcholine…Everything I tried it worse, so svere worsening from LDN, tried Clonazepam also was worse, tried Taurine and NAC,magnesium,reservatrol..worse,worse,worse..In urine I have very high levels of Serotonin,GABA,Glutamate,low level of Adrenalin. So confused. Few days ago I took 1/4 Taurine and I am so much worse now

  • Dan

    why would you want to lower it ? unless you have a depression induced from acetlycholine i.e. a very rare possibility and in that case Serotonin or Dopamine both could work. but still a rarest thing to have too much of this imp neurotransmitter.

  • Gabi Fe

    I am confused about Alpha lipoic acid? I read everywhere that it increase acetylcholin..I have just bought it but to scared to try after reading of increasing act…can someone explain…I have excess of acetylcholine and serotonin in eyes caused by medications one year ago and can’t recover…please help

  • Tony

    I think another way to lower high levels of acetylcholine activity is by increasing serotonin levels.

  • Lou

    Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors do indeed raise acetylcholine levels. But they have side-effects that may harm mental functioning in other ways. My own personal theory is that they slow the clearance of acetylcholine from synaptic junctures. Acetylcholine is emitted from one side of a synapse to cause a firing, but for firing to occur a second time, the acetylcholine must be cleared away. This clearance is performed by acetylcholinesterase. So if you inhibit acetylcholinesterase, clearance occurs more slowly, and therefore the synapse may not be ready to fire the next time it is needed, if a second firing is required of it soon after the first firing. That’s why I believe that Alpha GPC is generally a better way to increase acetylcholine levels than is the use of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.

  • Lou

    Alpha GPC is more effective than CDP choline, but both work well to increase acetylcholine in the brain. Regular choline is ineffective, as it does not cross the blood-brain barrier very well, especially for older persons.

  • anna burns

    hi Joe, I was wondering which might be better…choline from lecithin or choline supplements? If choline supplements, would it be CDP or Alpha GPC? thanks

  • sabine

    acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are helpful

    Antioxidant and acetylcholinesterase inhibitory potential of
    Arnica montana cultivated in Bulgaria

    gel work well too

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