Long-term memories are stored in various parts of your brain as neural memory maps. These memory maps identify the neurons involved in a particular memory and enable your brain to recreate and reconstruct memories when you remember things. For many kinds of memories, including knowledge and facts, these memory maps are created and inventoried in your Hippocampus.
Memories are made permanent through a process called long-term potentiation. Each and every new thought and sensory experience causes the neuronal firing across some of your synapses to either strengthen or weaken. The pattern of firing across a network of synapses represents an initial memory of your experience, but, like a footprint in sand, that memory will soon decay and disappear unless it is made more permanent by long-term potentiation.
The key to creating long term memories is repetition. As neurons fire together the bonds between them strengthen. The bonded neurons then begin to recruit neighboring neurons to join the effort. Each time the activity or experience is repeated, the bonds become a little stronger and more neurons get involved. Eventually an entire network of neurons develops representing the memory of the repeated skill, information, procedure or experience. Motivation and intense emotion can cause memories to become encoded more quickly.
During (REM) sleep, which is when we are in deep sleep and when we dream, various brain regions rehearse memory patterns to either reinforce new memories or keep fading memories alive. Consistently getting an adequate amount of high quality sleep is essential to learning new skills and information and to having a strong memory.
The main neurotransmitter used by neurons in your Hippocampus (where your long-term memory maps are stored) is called Acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is one of the most important neurotransmitters and serves a number of important functions in the brain and body:
- Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter at the neuromuscular junction (where your motor neurons connect to your muscles) and allows your brain to talk to your skeletal muscles causing your muscles to contract - as a result, increasing Acetylcholine levels has been linked with increased physical strength and coordination;
- Acetylcholine modulates transmissions through the hippocampus, which plays a critical role in learning and memory;
- Acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitters used by the parasympathetic nervous system, which puts the body into a state of rest and regeneration - Acetylcholine is used by the Vagus nerve, which is the master control for slowing your heart rate and reducing physiological stress;
- Acetylcholine promotes synaptogenesis, the development of synapses in the brain, which enables your brain to rewire itself and record memories;
- Acetylcholine has been linked to the brain’s motivation and reward, sleep and arousal, cognitive processes and stimulus processing functions; and
- Acetylcholine is a building block of myelin, which is essential for learning and proper nerve function.
According to research recently published in the scientific journal Advances in Psychology and Neuroscience, an estimated 86% of Americans have suboptimal levels of Acetylcholine in their brain. Stress, poor diet, neurotoxins (including pollution), genetic predisposition, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine usage are cited as the major contributing factors. Therefore, taking steps to boost your Acetylcholine levels is essential to the proper functioning of your memory and your ability to learn.
Acetylcholine is synthesized in certain cholinergic neurons. Newly synthesized Acetylcholine is more readily released upon neural stimulation than stored Acetylcholine, therefore increasing the rate of Acetylcholine synthesis, instead of inhibiting the breakdown of existing Acetylcholine, is more beneficial. Increasing the rate of Acetylcholine synthesis can be achieved through diet and/or supplementation.
To best way to raise Acetylcholine levels in the brain is by supplementing with a form of choline that is both bioavailable and able to efficiently cross the blood-brain barrier. There are two forms of choline that perform this function well, Alpha GPC and CDP Choline (Citicoline). The more common and cheaper sources of choline, typically Choline Bitartrate and Phosphatidylcholine, cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore do nothing to boost levels of Acetylcholine in the brain. Alpha GPC and CDP Choline (Citicoline) are both excellent sources of choline. For nootropic purposes CDP Choline (Citicoline) is superior, because it also metabolizes into Uridine, which repairs your Dopamine receptors, increases the number of Dopamine receptors and promotes neuroplasticity. In terms of dosage, CDP Choline (Citicoline) is twice as potent as Alpha GPC, meaning that, for example, 250mg of CDP Choline (Citicoline) is equivalent to 500mg of Alpha GPC.