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Foods with acetylcholine: Benefits, Side Effects, and Types

Benefits, Side Effects, and Types

In recent years, nootropics, also called smart drugs, have gained popularity among people looking to improve their mental performance.

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, that plays a role in many key aspects of brain function, such as memory, thinking, and learning.

While acetylcholine supplements don’t exist, supplements that may indirectly raise acetylcholine levels have become popular among people interested in nootropics as a way to enhance mental performance.

This article explores the benefits and side effects of acetylcholine supplements, and outlines the best types.

Acetylcholine is a molecule that functions as a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in your body. This means it relays messages from your brain to your body through nerve cells (1).

It’s produced from acetyl coenzyme A, which comes from the sugar molecule glucose, and choline, with the help of an enzyme called choline acetyltransferase (1).

It has many important functions in the body and plays a role in muscle movement, thinking, working memory, and many other brain functions (2, 3).

Conversely, low acetylcholine levels have been linked to learning and memory impairments, as well as brain disorders, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (2, 4, 5).

Because acetylcholine plays a role in brain functions, supplements that increase acetylcholine levels have gained interest as nootropics, natural or synthetic substances that may improve your mental performance.

Acetylcholine can’t be taken as a dietary supplement. However, supplements that increase the release of acetylcholine, such as choline supplements, and those that inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine may boost acetylcholine levels.


Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in muscle movement, thinking, working memory, and other aspects of the brain. Low levels have been associated with memory impairment and brain disorders.

Though acetylcholine plays a key role in many aspects of your health, there are no dietary supplements that can directly increase its levels.

However, you can eat foods or take dietary supplements that indirectly increase the release of acetylcholine or inhibit its breakdown.

One of the easiest ways to raise acetylcholine levels is to consume foods or take dietary supplements that are high in choline — an essential nutrient that can be converted into acetylcholine (1).

Choline is present in many foods, including (6):

  • Beef liver: 3 ounces (85 grams) contain 65% of the Daily Value (DV).
  • Egg: 1 large hard-boiled egg contains 27% of the DV.
  • Beef top round: 3 ounces (85 grams) contain 21% of the DV.
  • Soybeans, roasted: 1/2 cup (86 grams) contains 19% of the DV.
  • Chicken breast, roasted: 3 ounces (85 grams) contain 13% of the DV.
  • Fish, cod: 3 ounces (85 grams) contain 13% of the DV.
  • Shiitake mushrooms, cooked: 1/2 cup (73 grams) contains 11% of the DV.
  • Kidney beans, canned: 1/2 cup (128 grams) contains 8% of the DV.
  • Quinoa, cooked: 1 cup (185 grams) contains 8% of the DV.
  • Milk, 1%: 1 cup (240 mL) contains 8% of the DV.
  • Vanilla yogurt, nonfat: 1 cup (245 grams) contains 7% of the DV.
  • Broccoli, boiled: 1/2 cup (78 grams) contains 6% of the DV.
  • Brussels sprouts, boiled: 1/2 cup (78 grams) contains 6% of the DV.

Dietary supplements that can increase choline levels include alpha-GPC (L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine), citicoline (CDP-choline), and choline bitartrate.

However, alpha-GPC and citicoline are typically higher in choline content per unit weight and are more easily absorbed than other forms (7, 8).

Another way you can indirectly increase acetylcholine levels is by taking supplements that inhibit enzymes that break down acetylcholine.

Certain supplements that may inhibit acetylcholine breakdown include (9, 10, 11):

  • Ginkgo biloba (ginkgo)
  • Bacopa monnieri
  • huperzine A

However, it’s unclear how effective supplements that inhibit acetylcholine breakdown are at raising acetylcholine levels, compared with choline supplements.


Acetylcholine isn’t available as a dietary supplement, but its levels can be indirectly raised through choline intake, a precursor to acetylcholine, as well as supplements that inhibit acetylcholine breakdown.

Increasing acetylcholine levels has been associated with several potential health benefits.

May aid memory and brain function

Research in animals and humans suggests that higher intakes of choline, a precursor to acetylcholine, may boost memory in people with memory issues.

In mice studies, supplementing with choline over their life span significantly improved memory and reduced the formation of amyloid-beta plaques — a compound that’s linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease (12, 13).

A study in 2,195 participants ages 70–74 found that those with higher blood levels of choline performed significantly better in memory and learning tasks than those with low levels (14).

In addition, supplements that inhibit acetylcholine breakdown, such as Bacopa monnieri, Ginkgo biloba, and huperzine A, have been associated with improved memory and brain function (15, 16, 17).

That said, research on these supplements and mental performance is fairly new. More studies are needed before recommending them for this purpose.

May support mental health

Several studies suggest acetylcholine precursor supplements may help treat several mental health conditions.

An observational study with over 5,900 participants found that low blood levels of choline were linked to a higher risk of anxiety. However, it didn’t find a link between blood choline levels and depression (18).

Another study in 50 people with depression observed that people who took 200 milligrams (mg) of citicoline daily for 6 weeks alongside citalopram (a medication for depression) had less severe depressive symptoms than those who only took their depression medications (19).

There’s also some evidence that Bacopa monnieri and Ginkgo biloba may help reduce symptoms of anxiety, but more human research is needed (20, 21).

In addition, choline supplements are sometimes used to treat symptoms in people with bipolar disorder. However, there’s limited research in this area, and more studies are needed before recommending it for this purpose (22, 23, 24, 25).

May support a healthy pregnancy

Approximately 90–95% of pregnant women consume less choline than the suggested daily amounts (6).

There’s some evidence that shows taking choline during pregnancy may support healthy fetal growth and improve fetal brain development.

One study indicated that supplementing with either 480 mg or 930 mg of choline per day during the third trimester of pregnancy significantly improved the infant’s mental function and memory at 4, 7, 10, and 13 months (26).

Another study in 69 pregnant women who were heavy drinkers found that taking 2 grams of choline daily from mid-pregnancy to birth significantly reduced the effects of alcohol exposure on the infant’s mental function (27).

Several other studies have noted that higher choline intake during pregnancy is associated with a lower risk of neural tube issues in infants (28, 29).

That said, other studies have observed no connection between maternal choline intakes and fetal brain development or neural tube issues, so more research is needed (30, 31).

Other potential benefits

Several other conditions may benefit from taking choline supplements, which may boost acetylcholine levels.

However, the relationship between choline intake and these conditions isn’t entirely clear, so more research is needed:

  • Liver disease. A choline deficiency may cause liver disease, and higher choline intakes may be linked to a lower risk of liver disease and liver cancers (32, 33, 34).
  • Heart disease. There’s some evidence that shows that choline may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, the link is unclear, and other studies show mixed results (35).


Choline supplements, which may raise acetylcholine levels, have been associated with benefits, such as improved memory, brain function, mental health, and pregnancy support. Supplements that inhibit acetylcholine breakdown may help as well.

As with any supplement, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking choline supplements or other supplements that raise acetylcholine levels.

In general, choline supplements, such as alpha-GPC and citicoline, are safe for most people and rarely associated with negative side effects.

However, consuming too much choline may have unpleasant and harmful side effects, such as low blood pressure, sweating, fishy body odor, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and liver damage (36).

Choline supplements have a daily upper limit of 3,500 mg, which is the most you can consume within a day that’s unlikely to cause harm (36).

That said, it’s very unlikely to consume this amount through diet alone. The only way to reach the upper limit is through taking supplements in large doses.

Bacopa monnieri, Ginkgo biloba, and huperzine A have been linked to side effects, such as nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, and headaches.

These supplements may also interact with various medications, so it’s important to notify your healthcare provider of any herbal supplements you’re taking (37, 38).


Supplements that raise acetylcholine levels are safe for most people, but excessive amounts of choline may have unpleasant side effects. Always speak with your healthcare provider before taking supplements that raise acetylcholine levels.

Supplements that raise acetylcholine levels or inhibit acetylcholine breakdown can be purchased online and in select health food and supplement stores.

Choline supplements are your best bet for raising acetylcholine levels because choline acts as an acetylcholine precursor, and they typically have fewer side effects. They’re mainly available in capsule and powder form.

The best choline supplements for raising acetylcholine levels are alpha-GPC and citicoline, as they tend to be absorbed better and contain more choline per unit weight (7, 8).

Most choline supplement brands for both alpha-GPC and citicoline recommend taking 600–1,200 mg per day, which is equivalent to two capsules twice per day, depending on the brand.

Most studies on alpha-GPC and citicoline and mental decline use a dosage of up to 1,200 mg per day, which appears to be safe and well tolerated.

Though supplements such as Bacopa monnieri, Ginkgo biloba, and huperzine A may raise acetylcholine levels, it’s unclear what dosage is necessary to achieve this effect.

If you’re simply looking to raise acetylcholine levels, choline supplements are a better option.


Choline supplements are your best bet for raising acetylcholine levels, and most choline supplements recommend taking 600–1,200 mg per day.

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that plays a role in many key aspects of health, such as muscle movement, thinking, and many other brain functions.

While acetylcholine supplements don’t exist, you can take supplements that may indirectly raise acetylcholine levels, such as choline supplements, and supplements that inhibit acetylcholine breakdown, such as Bacopa monnieri, Ginkgo biloba, and huperzine A.

However, choline supplements appear to be your best bet for increasing acetylcholine levels.

Aside from mental benefits, choline supplements have been linked to other positive effects, such as supporting a healthy pregnancy and aiding mental health, as well as potential heart and liver benefits.

However, avoid taking too much choline or any of the above mentioned herbal supplements as they may have unpleasant side effects. As with any supplement, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before taking it.

9 Foods High in Choline and Why You Need It

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

In this Article

  • Why You Need Choline
  • Foods With Choline

Choline is a nutrient essential to many bodily functions. Our bodies produce this vitamin-like compound in our liver, but not at sufficient levels. We need to get the rest of our body’s requirements from food.

The richest dietary sources of choline are meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. Many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain choline as well, so there are plenty of options for people on vegetarian or plant-based diets. 

Choline is also available as a supplement, either on its own or in combination with B-complex vitamins and multivitamins. There are no studies to confirm its effectiveness from supplements over dietary sources, however.

Research shows that getting enough choline in your diet is essential to brain health and nervous system function, and plays a role in memory and learning processes.  

The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that men and women get 500 milligrams and 425 milligrams of choline per day, respectively. Women who are pregnant should increase their intake by about 25 milligrams and breastfeeding women by 175 milligrams. 

Our bodies make a small amount of choline, but we need to get most of our daily total from dietary sources. While most people don’t get enough in their diet, deficiencies are rare. At very low levels, a lack of choline can lead to muscle or liver damage. 

Research shows choline helps maintain the health of several bodily functions, including:

Nervous System Function

Our bodies need choline to produce acetylcholine. Research shows this compound is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in functions like memory, muscle movement, maintaining your heartbeat, and even your mood.

While research is ongoing, choline is being studied for its potential to boost long-term cognitive health, including reducing the risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.


Metabolism refers to our bodies’ chemical reactions that change food into energy and break down nutrients to support healthy functions.

Choline is a vital nutrient for normal metabolic processes, like breaking down fats that maintain good cell membrane structure and carrying nutrients around your body.

Liver Health

Choline is also required to clear cholesterol from your liver. Deficiencies cause fat and cholesterol accumulation in your liver, which puts you at risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Many foods are a great source of protein, particularly meat, dairy, and fish — but this puts people on a plant-based diet at a higher risk for choline deficiency. However, plenty of green vegetables and other vegetarian-friendly foods contain choline, just in lower amounts per serving. 

To make sure you’re getting enough in your diet, consider these nine choline-rich options: 

1. Liver

At over 414 milligrams per 100-gram serving, pan-fried beef liver is one of the richest choline sources. Chicken liver contains slightly less choline content with 200 milligrams for the same serving, which is still about half of your daily amount required. 

2. Egg Yolks

Just one large egg contains almost 140 milligrams of choline in its yellow yolk — there’s not any choline in the egg whites. Eggs are high in cholesterol, however.

While healthy for most people as a part of a balanced diet, consuming too much cholesterol can cause health problems for people with diabetes or at risk of heart disease.

3. Beef

Cooked beef is high in choline, with levels varying based on the cut. For example, a cup of ground beef contains 100 milligrams and a skirt steak has 51 milligrams per four-ounce serving. Because some cuts of meat can be high in saturated fats, choose a lean variety for its nutritional benefits without adding too much fat to your diet.

4. Chicken Breast

A serving of lean chicken breast contains about 15% of your choline content for the day. Depending on your taste, turkey products have comparable choline levels to chicken, including turkey drumsticks, bacon, and both light and dark meats. 

5. Fish

Fish are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, including choline. Caviar lovers can get 139 milligrams from a one-ounce serving, while fish roe used in dishes like sushi has 95 milligrams of choline per ounce.

Other fish varieties also contain high choline levels as well, like 100 grams of cod at 291 milligrams, and salmon, haddock, and most white fish at 95 milligrams. 

6. Broccoli

Choline is present in most green vegetables but most heavily concentrated in broccoli. One cup of cooked broccoli has more than 60 milligrams of choline, which makes it an excellent source for people who avoid meat and dairy products. 

7. Soy

Raw soybeans contain 216 milligrams of choline per cup, adding soy products to the list of choline sources for those on a plant-based diet. How the soybeans are processed can affect this choline content, however.

Products may vary, but on average you can get 106 milligrams of choline from a 100-gram serving of tofu, 56 milligrams from a cup of soymilk, but only trace amounts in soybean oil. 

8. Dairy

Choline is available in a wide range of dairy products. A cup of 2% fat milk contains 40 milligrams of choline, and depending on the product, most cheeses have between 36 and 65 milligrams per 100 grams. While you should limit your overall sugar intake, you can even get 20 milligrams of choline from a milk chocolate bar. 

9. Cauliflower

A cup of cauliflower adds about 47 milligrams of choline to your meal. You can either cook the cauliflower to get its choline — plus the rest of its health-boosting nutrients — or eat it raw, like grating it into cauliflower rice or a salad.  

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what is acetylcholine and is it worth improving its synthesis – Offtop on vc.


About its key role in the functioning of the nervous system and why this is the case when an excess can be dangerous.

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Welcome to the Nooteria Labs blog! We are talking here simply about the complex: how our brain and nervous system work, and what can be done to be more efficient and feel better.

Today we will talk about acetylcholine – a well-known substance that is of great importance for the functioning of the nervous system. This neurotransmitter has an interesting property: its deficiency is bad, and its excess can be harmful to the body.

It is acetylcholine that most manufacturers of nootropic complexes refer to with the words “increases the amount”. However, there is very little information about how much this neurotransmitter is needed and why. We will try to tell about this in detail and clearly, and start from the very beginning.

Discovery of acetylcholine

Acetylcholine is one of the first discovered neurotransmitters. In 1921, the pharmacologist Otto Löwy experimented with the heart of a frog with a vagus nerve by placing it in a vessel with a nutrient solution. Exciting the nerve, he achieved cardiac arrest.

Then this solution was added to a similar vessel, where the heart of another frog contracted, but without the nerve. Cardiac activity similarly weakened and stopped. Lewy concluded that when a nerve is excited, a special substance is released that retains its effect in solution. It was acetylcholine.

For this discovery in 1936, Loewy received the Nobel Prize in Physiology with the wording “for discoveries related to the chemical transmission of nerve impulses.”

How is it produced

Acetylcholine is synthesized in the nerve cells of the body continuously as a result of an enzymatic reaction.

Its synthesis occurs in the axons – the areas where one neuron adjoins another. After synthesis, acetylcholine in special membranes, vesicles, is sent to the end of this neuron, where the contents leave the membranes and merge together, falling into the synaptic cleft. There, the neurotransmitter seeks to penetrate into another neuron through a special receptor; in acetylcholine, this is possible through two types: nicotinic and muscarinic.

A special enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, is responsible for the balance of acetylcholine in the synaptic cleft. Acetylcholine is inherently unstable and breaks down easily – acetylcholinesterase prevents the body from having too much acetylcholine by breaking it down into choline and acetate.

The fact is that an excess of acetylcholine is dangerous – in excessively large quantities it causes convulsions, paralysis and even death. Related to this is the mechanism of action of some poisons – nerve agents such as sarin, soman and others. These poisons do not allow acetylcholinesterase to act, as a result of which the content of acetylcholine rises menacingly, excitatory signals are continuously transmitted, the organs are in a hyperactive state until they are completely exhausted.

How it works in the nervous system

Let’s look at the work of acetylcholine as a mediator of the nervous system, that is, a transmitter of nervous excitation. It causes the following effects:

Responsible for the transmission of impulses by motor neurons – and, as a result, for all human movements. Each movement is accompanied by the action of acetylcholine in neuromuscular synapses. In any, the smallest muscle, acetylcholine is released, starting the process of movement in synapses and its contraction.

Affects the functioning of internal organs – acetylcholine acts in the autonomic nervous system, where a person cannot directly control processes – for example, sweat or dilate blood vessels. Being a neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic part of the nervous system, acetylcholine has a calming effect on the functioning of organs – it reduces the lumen of the bronchi, makes the heartbeat less frequent, constricts the pupils.

Works in the brain – acetylcholine acts in the hypothalamus, cerebral hemispheres, medulla oblongata. Here, the main effect of this neurotransmitter is to participate in the process of sleep and wakefulness.

Acetylcholine has a stabilizing effect: when stressed, it lowers the level of excitation, and if the brain is too slow, it will activate it. The effect of acetylcholine on human cognitive functions will also be presented here. For example, it helps maintain attention, is associated with memory and learning ability, acting in the neurons of the cerebral hemispheres and the hippocampus.

Thus, acetylcholine is a mediator of the peripheral nervous system, parasympathetic system, works in the brain.

What threatens the deficiency

A decrease in the level of acetylcholine leads to significant disruption of the brain. Its deficiency is associated with the development of neuropsychiatric diseases, in particular, Alzheimer’s disease, a neurogenerative disease, which is the most common form of dementia.

Its development is facilitated by the degeneration and death of neurons, leading to impaired signal transmission. Moreover, studies suggest that the degree of disorders associated with the transfer of acetylcholine directly correlates with the severity of the clinical manifestations of the disease.

Less significant disorders of cognitive functions are also associated with impaired synthesis of acetylcholine. Sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness – all this can be caused by a lack of neurotransmitter content.

Myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune disease that leads to pathological muscle fatigue, is also associated with impaired synthesis. Antibodies block acetylcholine receptors, disrupting neuromuscular impulse transmission.

Consequences of excess

However, elevated levels of acetylcholine can also cause problems: studies show such changes in depressed patients. The hypothesis about this relationship was formulated in 1972. The study shows how administration of physostigmine acetylcholinesterase induces symptoms of anxiety and depression by increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain.

Normally, in humans, acetylcholine breaks down quickly, that is, if the level is so high that it causes problems, then this indicates a failure in the synthesis process. With the correct operation of the systems, the “extra” acetylcholine will simply be immediately processed by acetylcholinesterase and an excessive increase, and even more so, an overdose in a healthy person will not occur.

To summarize: the body needs a stable level of acetylcholine to function properly.

Do not increase it uncontrollably with serious pharmaceuticals, but correcting the deficiency through changes in lifestyle and nutrition, through over-the-counter supplements, dosages in which dosages are presented within safe limits, can be useful.

How to improve synthesis

In normal life, acetylcholine is produced by the body all the time, but there are some factors that can help improve its synthesis.

For example, the level of acetylcholine increases training – physical and intellectual, getting new information. At the same time, overtraining will cause an imbalance, because sports are good in moderation, without overwork.

To improve the synthesis of acetylcholine, foods rich in choline will be useful . These are eggs, nuts, meat, fish, oatmeal, germinated cereals, oranges. For people who do not consume animal products or follow a low-fat diet, supplementation is recommended.

Acetylcholine levels can be affected by:

Nootropics are drugs that have a positive effect on higher brain functions. They increase the content of acetylcholine in synaptic endings and the density of cholinergic receptors;

DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) is one of the precursors to choline found in many brain-enhancing supplements;

Bacopa Monnieri – herbal supplement that stabilizes the level of neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine, serotonin and dopamine;

Lecithin is an ester of choline amino alcohol and diglyceride phosphoric acids, participates in the synthesis of acetylcholine;

Acetyl L-carnitine is an amino acid that is a precursor of acetylcholine, has a similar structure and activates its receptors.

These and several other supplements can increase acetylcholine levels, either alone or in combination – for example, our MindBooster uses DMAE, Bacopa Monnieri and B vitamins.

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