Carolyn, 36, was a yoga teacher and one of those unfortunate individuals whose life had been changed by a head trauma sustained in a car accident. When she was a junior in college a drunk driver ran a red light and hit her car as she was driving through an intersection, which sent her head first through the window. She was diagnosed with a mild concussion and given stitches for some lacerations on her head. She was told she was lucky not to have received any life-threatening injuries and given a clean bill of health.
However, she was never the same after the accident. After the accident she suffered episodes of migraines, nausea, and dizziness. She lost her ability to focus and concentrate and developed such poor brain endurance that she had to drop out of school. She was devastated as her dream of becoming a marine biologist was crumbling.
She had to move back in with her parents, as she was unable to work. She kept hoping she would recover in few months, but the months turned into years. She consulted with various conventional and alternative doctors, but nobody was able to help her. One day she tried yoga, and it was the first thing to improve her function. The quiet, restful deep breathing and slow stretching calmed down her overactive brain. After a few weeks of doing yoga she found her headaches began to disappear. She didn’t know it at the time but the slow stretches and deep breathing were activating areas of her brain (cerebellum and parietal lobe) that were injured in the accident and she was rehabilitating her brain with every yoga session. She defined her life with two significant events: the day of the car accident and the day she found yoga. She eventually become a yoga teacher and began to practice meditation, a vegan diet, and regular fasts.
When Carolyn fist came to my office she appeared significantly malnourished. Her skin and hair were dry and her nails unhealthy. She almost looked like an alcoholic, but she did not drink. It was obvious her brain function was impaired because after taking her history for 20 minutes she needed to take a break by closing her eyes and deep breathing for a few minutes. As I continued the history and exam her eyelids and facial muscles began to droop, and she started to fade due to exhaustion.
Despite the great gains she made from yoga, her new fat-free diet (vegan) was void of essential fats and choline. This was critical because choline is essential for the production of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter necessary for focus, concentration, memory, and brain endurance. She also suffered from daily episodes of low blood glucose as she fasted for part of each day. It was clear that without essential fatty acids for brain food, choline for acetylcholine production, and a steady supply of glucose to fuel brain energy, her brain would not work efficiently again. Unfortunately, Carolyn was not willing to change her diet but did agree to limit the fasting. I gave her essential fatty acids and compounds to support acetylcholine, which I will discuss in this chapter. Her response to these supplements was immediate and dramatic. Within 30 minutes of taking them her concentration and focus improved significantly.
Carolyn’s case involved many factors beyond acetylcholine support, but I share her story because it illustrates how certain dietary restrictions can affect the brain. Although her brain was not working due to her head injury, the potential for yoga to continue to rehabilitate her brain became compromised because her brain chemistry was not ideal. Ideal brain chemistry, which is based on diet and lifestyle, is critical not only for brain recovery but also for ideal brain function. If your brain is not working well and you are having difficulty with memory, focus, and concentration, this chapter on acetylcholine is very important for you.
Datis Kharrazian, DC, DHSc, MS, MNeuroSci