The orchestrated dance of our neurotransmitters follows an intricate and delicate choreography which enables us to think, to feel, to exist.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers which the brain uses to deliver instructions from one neuron (nerve cell) to another. Without this versatile troupe working in concert, our brains could not function. Acetylcholine (Ach) is a key player in this troupe. The body uses more of it than any other neurotransmitter.
Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter in charge of muscle movement. It is found in smooth muscle — in the airways, bladder, blood vessels, glands, the gastrointestinal tract, the heart, and other internal organs. It is also found in skeletal muscle, which is what we normally think of as muscle — deltoids (shoulders), biceps and pectorals(arms), the rectus abdominis (stomach), etc. Acetylcholine dictates that our muscles work in harmony.
For mental alertness, concentration and memory, acetylcholine is a must. When levels are right, mood is elevated, the mind is focused, and intelligence increased. The brain performs its dance smoothly and effortlessly. When acetylcholine levels are low, learning and recall can plummet. The ability to think clearly and coherently can be disrupted.
This neurotransmitter also plays a vital role in controlling primitive drives and emotions, e.g., anger, fear, and aggression. When there is an imbalance among our neurotransmitters, these drives and emotions, now unchecked, can wreak havoc on both the individual affected and on the people around them.
Our brain's ability to create acetylcholine lessens as we get older. This can give rise to memory loss and possibly to dementia later in life. Research has shown that all people who experience dementia suffer from insufficient acetylcholine.
Steady blood flow is vital for acetylcholine to do its job. But if blood flow in the brain is restricted, by damage caused by mini-strokes, for example, acetylcholine takes a serious hit. This problem is compounded by the fact that the acetylcholine system controls blood flow to the outer portion of the brain. When the acetylcholine system is compromised, it is less able to correct erratic blood flow. This brings about even greater impact on acetylcholine production, leading to ever-diminishing blood flow.
Eventually this downward spiral can cause the brain to lose its ability to process and retain information. The life-sustaining dance continues to falter and stumble into deeper chaos. Thoughts and emotions become increasingly incoherent, muscle command steadily deteriorates, and dementia ultimately takes center-stage.
Chemistry Explained: Acetylcholine
Dynamic Chiropractic, Canada
HowStuffWorks: How Muscles Work
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The Science of the Evolving Mind
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