Diet might play a role in the production of acetylcholine and a decreased risk of certain diseases.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that plays an important role in muscle movements, thinking, and working memory.
Working memory is the brain's ability to hold information in the mind temporarily.
Problems with the production and use of acetylcholine are hallmarks of diseases such as dementia and myasthenia gravis (an autoimmune disease that weakens the muscles).
Acetylcholine receptors are proteins to which acetylcholine binds, allowing signals to flow from one nerve cell to another.
Drugs that work on the acetylcholine receptors have many medical uses, including the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and myasthenia gravis.
Medications that stimulate acetylcholine receptors are called agonists, while those that inhibit receptors are called antagonists.
Acetylcholine and Alzheimer's Disease
People with Alzheimer's disease produce less acetylcholine.
Medications that stop the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain, called cholinesterase inhibitors, may be prescribed to people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's symptoms.
These drugs may help delay or prevent behavioral symptoms such as agitation, delusions, or sundowning (a state of confusion and distress late in the day) from becoming worse for a limited period of time.
However, they may lose their effectiveness as the brain produces less and less acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine Foods and Supplements
There are no foods or supplements that contain the chemical acetylcholine, though some foods and supplements may contain the building blocks of acetylcholine.
Choline is an essential nutrient and a building block of acetylcholine. Foods that are naturally high in choline include whole eggs, meats and fish, and whole grains.
Studies in laboratory animals and humans suggest that consuming foods or supplements rich in choline may elevate levels of acetylcholine in the brain.
This means that choline could potentially have a protective effect against certain types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
However, more research is needed to tease out the complicated relationship between dietary choline and brain function.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Acetylcholine neurotransmitter, Neuroscience. 2nd edition
- Acetylcholine and Alzheimer's disease, National Institute on Aging
- Acetylcholine supplements, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- Dietary choline, U.S. Department of Agriculture