© Robyn Mackenzie | Dreamstime.com
If Alzheimer’s disease or dementia has affected someone you know, you may be asking, “Is there a diet that will help prevent memory loss?”
Fortunately, there are a number of natural tools to help prevent and manage mild cognitive impairment (pre-dementia) and Alzheimer’s disease. However, an often-overlooked but critically necessary nutrient is acetylcholine.
Since the brain’s ability to create acetylcholine lessens as we age, the answer to how to improve memory may be to simply “feed” your body the nutrients necessary to produce this vital brain chemical.
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What Is Acetylcholine?
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that allows neurons to communicate with each other. We have a number of different neurotransmitters that perform different functions; however, none are used more abundantly in the brain and body than acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is vital for a good mood, mental alertness, concentration, focus, and memory—qualities that dim or are lost with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. It allows us to connect different parts of memory, such as a name with a face. Acetylcholine also plays a role in keeping such primitive emotions as anger, fear, and aggression in check so we don’t overreact to minor situations. And it helps maintain good blood flow in the brain so that the brain gets enough oxygen.
How to improve memory? It becomes clear very quickly that acetylcholine is a critical component of any restoration effort.
How Do I Know If I Have an Acetylcholine Deficiency?
Certain symptoms can give you a clue. But to start, if you eat a low-fat diet and your memory isn’t what it used to be, this is a major red flag. For example, do you often forget where you parked the car? Or, do you have trouble remembering faces? If so, it’s time to seriously consider using natural remedies to improve your brain health.
The most common symptoms of an acetylcholine deficiency include:
- Memory loss
- Memory lapses
- Loss of visual memory (faces; where the car is parked)
- Poor comprehension
- Difficulty learning and retaining new information
- Difficulty calculating numbers
- Excessive urination
How to Improve Memory Naturally
Acetylcholine activity is the target of Alzheimer’s drugs, which block the breakdown of this brain chemical. However, several dietary strategies and natural supplements can also support acetylcholine levels and without the harsh side effects that come along with the drugs.
For starters, the body makes acetylcholine from dietary fats. So, a diet that’s overly low in fat or overly high in unhealthy fats (processed vegetable oils common in junk foods, restaurant foods, and packaged foods) can lead to low acetylcholine levels.
The most abundant dietary sources of choline—a precursor to acetylcholine—are animal fats such as egg yolks, cream, fatty cheeses, fatty fish, fatty meats, and liver. Non-animal sources include avocadoes and almonds. Although you don’t need to eat these foods to excess, depriving yourself of healthy fats on a long-term basis can lead to an acetylcholine deficiency. Therefore, you may want to skip a vegan or Ornish diet, which can deprive your brain of vital nutrients. And give up junk foods with processed and hydrogenated oils.
In addition to dietary changes, you may want to consider “feeding” your brain with natural supplements and other nutritional compounds that have been shown to encourage acetylcholine activity:
- Galantamine: Galantamine, derived from the bulbs of snowdrop flowers, has been used for decades in other countries to treat mild to moderate symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Galantamine is a cholinesterase inhibitor, which means it inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, concentrating levels in the brain.
- Alpha-GPC (L-alpha-glycerlphosphorcylcholine): Alpha-GPC is used in Europe for Alzheimer’s. It is derived from highly purified soy lecithin and delivers choline across the blood-brain barrier to function as a precursor to acetylcholine.
- Huperzine: Huperzine is derived from Chinese club moss and acts as a cholinesterase inhibitor, raising acetylcholine levels in the brain. Research has shown it to be effective in improving cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s and in enhancing memory.[3,4]
- Acetyl-l-carnitine: Acetyl-l-carnitine is an amino acid that enhances the use of fatty acids for energy production and is a brain antioxidant. It is also thought to contribute to the production and release of acetylcholine in the brain and has been shown to improve learning and memory.[5,6]
*For each of these nutritional supplements, it is best to follow to manufacturer’s dosing instructions.
Although dementia can have many different causes—including acetylcholine deficiency—many are reversible. The sooner you begin incorporating natural healing techniques to address the underlying root cause of memory insufficiencies, the better.
Originally published in 2012 and updated.