Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that’s essential for cognitive function. Your brain uses it to transmit, process, and modulate information during cognitive processing, and naturally, that’s led to investigation into the use of acetylcholine as a nootropic supplement to improve cognitive function.
However, you can’t absorb acetylcholine in supplement form; you need to take supplements that boost acetylcholine levels indirectly, either by providing the precursors for synthesizing it, or slowing the breakdown of acetylcholine in your brain.
With these, you may be able to improve memory, attention, and learning beyond what’s possible for you normally. Looking for better brain power?
Here are the best nootropic supplements to boost your acetylcholine levels, according to our research team.
If you want to enhance your cognitive function, focus, and memory, as well as receive countless other benefits, then Optimind is the supplement for you.
Based on more than 50 years of neuroscience it offers a powerful triple-threat of ingredients to boost your acetylcholine levels.
- Bacopa monnieri, an herb that has been used medicinally for thousands of years
- Vinpocetine which is extracted from the periwinkle plant to benefit your memory
- Sulbutiamine, a synthesized ingredient which increases your energy as well as your acetylcholine levels
Optimind then slows the breakdown of acetylcholine, ensuring that it stays in your body longer, so you get the most out of it. For that it uses Huperzine A, an ingredient extracted from plants and used to treat people with Alzheimer’s.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Every ingredient in Optimind is specifically chosen to ensure that your mind is running at its best, boosting your focus, sleep, energy, and health.
You’re not going to find a more complete and effective nootropic anywhere else. That’s why it’s our number one pick.
2. Cognitune NuClarity
Cognitune NuClarity is one of the few nootropic supplements that provides three of the major supplements for maintaining consistently high acetylcholine levels.
It uses alpha GPC, a precursor and building block for acetylcholine, to increase the rate of synthesis, as well as phosphatidylserine to stimulate the release of acetylcholine.
Finally, huperzine A ensures that the acetylcholine that is synthesized and released is degraded more slowly. Because it bolsters all three pillars of high acetylcholine levels. We highly recommend it.
3. Genius Consciousness
Genius Consciousness includes several compounds to help boost acetylcholine levels in your brain.
These include alpha-GPC, which serves as a precursor for acetylcholine synthesis, and huperzine A, which slows the deterioration of acetylcholine once it’s been synthesized.
This double-edged approach makes Genius Consciousness particularly effective at improving memory and learning.
In addition to the acetylcholine promoting compounds, you’ll also find a slew of other nootropic compounds, which makes it a well-rounded supplement for cognitive function overall, too.
4. Onnit Alpha Brain
Onnit’s Alpha Brain is a nootropic supplement that’s formulated to stimulate cognitive performance on several fronts at once, but it definitely holds its own when it comes to acetylcholine production.
It includes both alpha GPC and huperzine A, so you’ll get a boost in acetylcholine synthesis and a decrease in acetylcholine degradation as well, which will pave the way to sustained improvements in memory and cognitive functioning.
Unlike many of its competitors, Alpha Brain doesn’t include caffeine, so it’s well-suited for use at any time of day, and by people who are too sensitive to use caffeine-based cognitive enhancement supplements.
5. Zhou Neuro Peak
Zhou Neuro Peak has a number of nootropic ingredients, and is widely applauded for its efficacy. In terms of its acetylcholine effects, the primary ingredient of importance is phosphatidylserine.
Scientific research has documented that this compound can stimulate the direct release of acetylcholine into the brain, which makes supplements that include it, like Zhou Neuro Peak, good for a rapid boost in acetylcholine levels for intensive studying or work sessions.
6. Doctor’s Best Natural Brain Enhancers
Doctor’s Best provides a great supplement that specifically targets acetylcholine production and release.
Its Natural Brain Enhancers supplement uses alpha GPC in combination with phosphatidylserine, a compound that induces the release of acetylcholine into the brain.
The two in combination may help prevent acetylcholine depletion from phosphatidylserine alone, as the alpha GPC serves as a precursor to synthesize more acetylcholine. To directly boost acetylcholine levels without other nootropic compounds, this supplement is one of the best.
7. OPTML NootropX
OPTML NootropX provides both huperzine A and alpha GPC, which should combine to create a stable and long-lasting boost to acetylcholine levels in your brain.
The other ingredients are more general nootropics; this supplement strikes a good balance between providing enough ingredients for general use and an acetylcholine specific
8. 1 Body Brain Support
1 Body Brain Support has both alpha GPC and huperzine A to boost the synthesis of acetylcholine and reduce its rate of resorption, but it does also contain quite a long list of additional ingredients.
These could prove to be a problem if you’re sensitive to side effects, or if you are more interested in acetylcholine production and less in overall nootropic effects.
This is a necessary tradeoff with any supplement that aims to provide nootropic effects with a wide range of ingredients versus targeting a specific pathway (e.g. acetylcholine production).
9. Nooflux Axon
Nooflux Axon uses a slightly different approach from many of its competitors. It focuses on boosting acetylcholine synthesis with CDP choline, a slightly less common precursor.
It does include phosphatidylserine to accelerate the release of acetylcholine as well. This combination might be a good choice if other acetylcholine supplements haven’t worked as well as you’d like.
10. Arazo Nutrition Brain Plus
Though Arazo Nutrition Brain Plus is one of the most popular nootropic supplements on the market right now, it has a number of drawbacks related to its acetylcholine producing ability that make it less well-suited for this application.
First among these is the fact that, while it contains huperzine A, choline, and phosphatidylserine, these are included among many other ingredients in a proprietary blend, which makes it difficult to tell whether they are present in adequate amounts.
It’s a decent general-purpose nootropic, but for acetylcholine specifically, it’s not the best.
11. Neuro Matrix
Neuro Matrix uses phosphatidylserine and huperzine A as its primary acetylcholine boosting ingredients, though the levels of these compounds are somewhat less than in other supplements.
It’s less proven than other general nootropics, and this combined with its lower acetylcholine boosting activity relegates it to a lower position in the rankings.
Acetylcholine benefits and side effects
While you can’t directly take acetylcholine as a supplement, there are supplements that you can take that increase the levels of acetylcholine in your brain indirectly.
These either promote the production of acetylcholine, stimulate its release, or prevent released acetylcholine from being degraded over time.
The effects of all of these are functionally the same as the effects of a heightened level of acetylcholine; namely, a range of cognitive, nootropic, and and neuroprotective effects.
Precursors of acetylcholine show protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. Given that acetylcholine is critically important for memory and learning, a tremendous amount of research has been devoted to studying compounds related to acetylcholine production as treatments for degenerative diseases of the central nervous system, like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
A scientific review article published in the Journal of Experimental Pharmacology by researchers in Italy summarized the effects of acetylcholine-modulating medications and supplements as they relate to cognitive decline (1).
Precursors to acetylcholine, like alpha GPC and choline, appear to confer a strong neuroprotective effect, offering resistance to cognitive decline.
Because the proposed mechanism of action is a direct increase in acetylcholine levels in the brain, other compounds that also increase acetylcholine, like huperzine A, should confer similar protective effects.
Reduced levels of acetylcholine are directly associated with decreases in cognitive performance. The central role of acetylcholine in mental function has been well-demonstrated in studies in both animals and humans that link lower levels of acetylcholine to worse cognitive function.
A study published in 1996 in the British Journal of Pharmacology used a targeted compound to block acetylcholine release in rats, and linked this decrease in acetylcholine levels to a drop in cognitive performance (evaluated, in this case, by tests like maze navigation) (2).
A study published in 2006 in the journal of Nutrition Health and Aging used folate deficiency in mice to further demonstrate that lower acetylcholine levels were linked to worse cognitive performance (3).
Both dietary factors (deficiencies in vitamin B intake) and genetic factors can lead to folate deficiency, but the authors found that, regardless of the cause of the deficiency, lower acetylcholine came hand in hand with worse cognitive performance.
The implications here are clear: higher acetylcholine levels may increase cognitive performance, hence the popularity of acetylcholine-boosting supplements among nootropic enthusiasts. Could this be the case?
Acetylcholine precursors can increase cognitive function. So far, the highest-quality research has focused mostly on people who already have some type of disease associated with cognitive decline, but still, initial results are promising.
One clinical trial published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior used patients with a specific type of Alzheimer’s to demonstrate that an acetylcholine precursor (citicoline) administered at a dose of 1000 mg per day was able to improve cognitive function and increase objective measures of brain activity (4).
While this is great news, it’s hard to make a direct inference as to how much a healthy person with normal cognitive function can expect to improve: it could be more or less, depending on exactly how acetylcholine regulates cognitive performance.
Huperzine A can maintain acetylcholine levels and cognitive performance by preventing the degradation of acetylcholine. One of the limiting factors of acetylcholine levels in the brain is the rate at which this neurotransmitter is degraded by an enzyme called cholinesterase.
Many pharmaceutical drugs that target acetylcholine levels attempt to inhibit or slow the action of this enzyme. Huperzine A is one supplement that appears to do so in a safe and effective way, according to a 2006 study by researchers in China (5).
This study summarizes the uses of huperzine A as way to prolong the life of acetylcholine in the brain, and cites a number of studies in animals that show that huperzine A is linked to superior cognitive performance by way of higher acetylcholine levels.
Interestingly, huperzine A also appears to be an effective thermogenic agent assisting with fat loss, so its biological activity is not limited to the brain.
The release of acetylcholine can be stimulated by phosphatidylserine. So far, we’ve seen two ways to increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain: the first was providing the body with precursors to synthesize acetylcholine from scratch, like alpha GPC or choline.
The second was to use huperzine A to prolong the lifetime of acetylcholine in the brain. Additional research suggests that a compound called phosphatidylserine can prompt your brain to release more acetylcholine that it’s already synthesized. This was first confirmed in animal studies, and later followed up with human research (6, 7).
This suggests that there are three distinct strategies that can be used to sustain high levels of acetylcholine for superior cognitive function.
One challenge with supplements designed to boost acetylcholine levels is that many have not been studied in large clinical trials, so their side effect profile is not well-characterized.
Huperzine A is one exception to this; several studies in China have examined it as a potential treatment for neurodegenerative diseases.
One review summarized the adverse effects from six different clinical trials; it concluded that huperzine A, while a beneficial treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, does have a tendency to cause side effects linked to high acetylcholine levels (8).
This includes nausea, hyper-excitability, vomiting, insomnia, a poor appetite, and dizziness. Since these are linked to the acetylcholine modulating effects of huperzine A, it’s likely that these side effects may also apply to the other methods of increasing acetylcholine levels, though perhaps to a lesser extent.
As with most side effects, these are less likely at lower doses, so it makes sense to start small when attempting to increase your acetylcholine levels.
The optimal dose of compounds intended to boost acetylcholine levels depends widely on the compound in question.
Research on acetylcholine precursors like choline uses dosages up to 1000 mg per day (for choline) and 600 mg per day (for alpha GPC); in contrast, most research on huperzine A uses much smaller doses (0.3 to 0.4 mg per day).
For best results with minimal side effects, you should start with fractions of these dosage levels, if possible, and scale up to full research-grade dosages if you feel you need a higher dose to get optimal cognitive benefits, and if you tolerate the supplement well.
Since these supplements, when they work, do modulate levels of a core neurotransmitter, you’ll want to be deliberate in your supplementation routine.
Acetylcholine is a powerful neurotransmitter that’s essential for optimal cognitive function, learning, and memory. There are three ways to gain the benefits of high acetylcholine levels through supplementation: the first is to increase the availability of acetylcholine precursors using supplements like choline or alpha GPC.
The second is to slow the rate at which acetylcholine is deteriorated by enzymes, which is where huperzine A comes in. Finally, you can directly stimulate the release of acetylcholine with phosphatidylserine.
These supplements do have side effects you should be conscious of, but at proper dosages, the odds are good that you can gain the cognitive benefits and neuroprotective effects of higher acetylcholine.