Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in the chemistry of your brain and the function of your nervous system. Unlike most neurotransmitters, which are synthesized from amino acids, acetylcholine’s primary building block is choline, an essential nutrient related to the B-complex family of vitamins. The more choline-rich foods you eat, the more acetylcholine your body can produce. But choose your high-choline foods carefully, as some are prohibitively high in fat.
Symptoms of Deficiency
Neurotransmitters come in two basic varieties: excitatory and inhibitory. Acetylcholine is an excitatory neurotransmitter, meaning that it stimulates the brain, as contrasted with an inhibitory neurotransmitter that has a calming effect. As a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine serves as a chemical messenger that supports such cognitive functions as memory and formation of thoughts. If your brain is producing too little acetylcholine, the most common symptoms are likely to be a decline in memory and diminished cognitive capacity. Provided your body has not lost the ability to synthesize this neurotransmitter or you have not been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, increasing your consumption of choline-rich foods can boost production of acetylcholine and remove the symptoms associated with its deficiency.
Importance of Choline
So important is choline to cognitive function that some food processors are adding supplementary amounts of the nutrient to processed foods, according to Eric Braverman, M.D., author of “The Edge Effect.” He points out that under U.S. government regulations, any food with 55 milligrams or more of choline per serving can be marketed as a “good source” of the nutrient. Braverman notes that because many choline-rich foods are high in fats, dieters may run the risk of developing an acetylcholine deficiency by steering clear of high-choline foods. This can be averted by selecting lower-fat foods that still contain high levels of choline. Apart from its role in the production of acetylcholine, choline is essential for proper metabolism of fats. A chronic choline deficiency can cause a buildup of fats and bile in the liver, eventually leading to cirrhosis.
Recommended Choline Intake
The recommended daily allowance of choline for males 14 years of age and older is 550 milligrams, according to the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board. Females from 14 to 18 should get at least 400 milligrams daily, and those 19 and over need a daily intake of 425 milligrams. Pregnant women should get 450 milligrams daily, and lactating women need 550 milligrams a day.
Recommended Sources of Choline
In “The Edge Effect,” Braverman offers several suggestions of lower-fat foods that can supply the choline you need to maintain optimal levels of acetylcholine. In the meat, poultry and fish category, he recommends lean beef, pork, chicken and turkey that has been trimmed of all visible fat as well as broiled or baked cod, salmon and tilapia. Among dairy foods, skim milk, low-fat cheeses, ice milk, low-fat frozen yogurt, nonfat powdered milk, and low-fat sour cream and yogurt are healthy choices. Eggs are high in choline, but opt for baked, boiled or poached eggs instead of fried. Vegetables rich in choline include artichokes, broccoli, broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts, cabbage and tomato paste. Among grains foods, oat and wheat bran as well as toasted wheat germ are high in choline.
- Neuroscience Online: Chapter 11: Acetylcholine Neurotransmission
- The Younger (Thinner) You Diet; Eric R. Braverman
- Neurogistics: The Brain Wellness Program: What Are Neurotransmitters?
- The Franklin Institute: Resources for Science Learning: The Human Brain
- U.S. News & World Report: Health: Alzheimer’s Disease
- The Edge Effect; Eric R. Braverman
- New Pounds and Inches; Richard Lipman
- Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins (NOTE TO ED: See second page of this PDF file)
Don Amerman has spent his entire professional career in the editorial field. For many years he was an editor and writer for The Journal of Commerce. Since 1996 he has been freelancing full-time, writing for a large number of print and online publishers including Gale Group, Charles Scribner’s Sons, Greenwood Publishing, Rock Hill Works and others.