- Posted by DanTomas
Topics discussed: The role of excess acetylcholine in bodybuilding depression
Disclaimer: This is not designed to rule out prescribed medication. As far as I am aware this the first article that presents this hypothesis. Bodybuilding depression is discussed intermittently in the community and appears counter intuitive. However there is a biochemical reason for it as we shall see, and I personally have found significant results with a simple dietary tweak. If you trail this protocol out I would like to hear of your experience.
There are undisputed mental health benefits for working out, indeed for many of us it is our primary motivation for training. Clarity of thought, calmness of mind, and sense of fulfilment. However despite these positive effects there appears to be a significant subsection of the fitness community, especially bodybuilders, that suffer from inexplicable periods of melancholy or outright depression. If this rings a bell then this article could provide you with the vital missing link. Now we must be careful about causality because depression clearly can result from numerous causes. Career, financial, and family problems (such as your little sister being able to bench more than you) must be at the top of the list. If this is the case you know what you have to do and get to work. However, what if you find yourself in the position where “on paper” you should be perfectly fine. You look great, you have a respectable income, a stable home, and your relationships are not in crisis. You cannot put your finger on why you are feeing down. Resulting symptoms are:
- Socialising is becoming an effort not something you look forward to
- A sense of loneliness even amongst your friends and family
- Drinking more than normal (also a causal factor)
Your first port of call might be the doctor, or the pub, but assuming it is your doctor the worst case scenario is that they prescribe antidepressants. It is important not to judge people that take this route and there are legitimate times when an individual is in a serious mental situation and drastic measures are in order. However, antidepressants do not address the underlying cause of your depression and the risk of receptor down regulation is something that is best avoided if possible. The problem is you have no other options available because you cannot identify the root cause.
Well its my mission to research little understood niche health subjects and cutting edge research. On with the good news. The answer to your problem likely lies in your mass gaining high protein diet, and just one small tweak by eliminate the offending substance will have a profound effect on your mood set point.
The problem is you may have unwittingly flooded your brain with the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Bear with me. Choline is a water soluble vitamin found in most animal tissue and is the primary precursor molecule to acetylcholine which is involved in many vital functions including short term memory, arousal, emotion, and muscle control. Neurotransmitters pass signals from one neuron to another, they have precise functions and are needed in precise relative concentrations. More importantly, there are some neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine that form systems that affects a large volume of the brain, known as volume transmission. The point is that increases and decreases in these neurotransmitters will have a profound effect of your brain.
In 2013, a study by Dr Marina Picciotto of Yale University discovered that abnormally high levels of acetylcholine in the brain can cause depression and anxiety symptoms in mice. In the brains of normal mice and people, the enzyme acetyl- cholinesterase (AChE) is produced to break down acetylcholine and keep levels in check. Dr Picciotto’s team discovered that administering Prozac (a classic antidepressant), AChE levels were elevated and acetylcholine were lowered into the normal range.
The original theoretical model for depression centered on the premise of treating suspected low serotonin levels, thus leading to the prescription of SSRI antidepressants since the late 80’s. The dangers of SSRIs are well documented and your doctor needs to be ahead of the curve on this point. The NY Times exposed how efficacy rates of this class of antidepressants were artificially inflated by drug companies through suppression of unfavorable studies. Worse still, long term use will cause a serious imbalance in your serotonin levels. 5HTP receptor sites are known to be downregulated in a process called receptor die-back. Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. The brain’s response to an artificially high level of serotonin from SSRIs is to shrink and kill 5HTP receptor sites, resulting in worse depression. The FDA reacted by mandating so-called black-box warnings of potential “suicidal thoughts and behaviour”.
So it appears that we may have misunderstood the mode of operation of SSRIs. It was not the serotonin per se that conferred a benefit but rather the reduction in acetylcholine.
We know that dietary choline supplementation leads to an increase of choline levels in blood plasma and brain tissues. Under normal conditions the brain is able to rapidly metabolise excessive choline and therefore acetylcholine will not be elevated. However researches have observed depressed mood in subjects given acetylcholine precursors. Therefore, it’s looking increasingly likely that excess dietary choline can lead to excess acetylcholine and hence depressed mood.
Compounding the problem, there are many foods (especially the nightshade family) and pesticides that contain cholinesterase inhibitors (CIs). The result is having excess choline and therefore excess acetylcholine.
The real problem with egg yolk
The relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease has been debated for decades. However eggs are back in favour now that the most recent research suggests that daily egg consumption does not appear to be associated with coronary heart disease and in fact may have a preventative effect on risk of stroke. Recommendations by the American College of Cardiology, and the European Guidelines on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in Clinical Practice, both have stated that dietary cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption. The problem is thinking that we now have a green light to consume dozens of whole eggs per week as part of a high protein diet. Forget cholesterol, egg yolks are the most concentrated source of choline in the American diet, providing 680 milligrams per 100 grams.
As we all know, eggs are a staple food for athletes because they are complete proteins. So the reality is that an athlete on a mass gaining diet can consume dozens of eggs per week. Over a period of months this can lead to elevated acetylcholine and mood imbalance. Bodybuilding depression is a thing.
This is not to say that you should eliminate egg yolks entirely, but you should once again focus on egg whites. The best way is to buy whole eggs and remove the yolk, like in the old days. However a steady supply of whole eggs for a mass gaining diet is not practical for people with actual day jobs. The most effective high protein strategy I have found is to consume a combination of whole eggs supplemented with a high quality/low cost liquid egg white product. Time is all important. If you want to have your time back to work, train, and play then this is the best way forward.
- Recommended egg whites in the UK
- N.B. I have been using Bulk Powders for fitness supplements for about 2 years. At this point in time they have cornered the niche for high-end products at low prices via mail order. They get costs down through selling in bulk quantities, perfect for egg whites and protein powders.
- Recommended egg whites in the US
Maintain a yolk free diet for a minimum of 3 months to allow your brain chemistry to normalise. Write in with your results and help raise awareness of bodybuilding depression in the community. This content is free but you can support this site with the affiliate products that I use myself, and every like and share is much appreciated.
Concerning long-term peak health, there are chronic deficiencies of specific vitamins/minerals in respect to a standard American diet that have been discussed elsewhere on this blog. Choosing the correct formulations is not straight forward. See the following discussions and recommendations here:
- Discussion and recommendations of the best Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, and Magnesium citrate formulations on the market for peak health.
Be strong, be happy, and destroy bodybuilding depression.