Updated: Aug 23
Answering the Questions To Put Your Mind at Ease
Last summer I wrote a blog delving into how the brain chemistry of introverts and extroverts is so different and drives our personality traits. The article provides some eye-opening conclusions and introduced more questions I'll answer today.
The gist of the blog was that extroverts crave dopamine. When their brains receive dopamine, extroverts are happy and receive pleasure. They receive this
dopamine largely from outside stimulation like social events and frequent interaction. Introverts on the other hand have a much lower tolerance to dopamine so we can get overstimulated quite easily. Too much social interaction exhausts us. This should come as no surprise to introverts.
Conversely, introverts crave acetylcholine. We want more of this chemical to feel satisfied and content. And introverts get that rush of acetylcholine through quiet, alone time, and introspection. So the more solitude we get, the more acetylcholine quenches our brains.
Another way to look at it is that dopamine creates a "fight or flight" approach in extroverts. They are primed for action either way. They need it. Meanwhile, introverts are primed for the "rest and digest" approach. Each works for the respective person because that is what their body craves. We may all generally have the same amount of dopamine or acetylcholine, but extroverts have many more dopamine receptors in their brain and introverts have many more acetylcholine receptors. Hence, we need to experience those activities that cause more dopamine or acetylcholine to gush toward our respective receptors.
The Biggest learning I had last year substantiated what I suspected. I don't believe people just "choose" to be introverts. I don't believe you can "fix" your introversion or get rid of it. It is who we are, much like other personality traits.
Many introverts have had that hunch or belief. But the information about our brains really proves it. Our brains are different from extroverts. They are built differently, crave differently, and react differently. So rather than seeking "solutions" or ways to "change ourselves" we should be embracing our introversion and finding ways to learn about ourselves and use our strengths to be the best person we can be. And given the fact that extroverts are wired much differently, the world really does need introverts to provide the many strengths which extroverts lack. So if the brain and how we are wired are so critical in defining who we are, I want to know more...
After researching and publishing that blog last summer, I was wondering more about acetylcholine. What characteristics or skills are more noticeable in those with proper acetylcholine levels? How might my acetylcholine levels change? What if my acetylcholine levels drop? Will I be happier with more acetylcholine? Can I get more?
What characteristics or skills are more noticeable in those with proper acetylcholine levels?
People with ample acetylcholine and an active receptor system often have resilient memories, strong cognitive skills, and sharp problem-solving capabilities. They typically don't "shoot from the hip" but need some additional time to process data, analyze information, and formulate opinions to share (because the acetylcholine paths are longer than the dopamine paths extroverts most often utilize). These characteristics should sound familiar. These are some of the most common strengths of introverts.
How might my acetylcholine levels change?
There are two important actors here. Acetylcholine levels and the number of receptors. Introverts have many more acetylcholine receptors and thus crave acetylcholine to quench the many receptors. Most people, introverts and extroverts, have about the same amount of acetylcholine. However, that level can naturally change. As we get older, our acetylcholine levels tend to drop. If this happens, our receptors are less satisfied.
What if my acetylcholine levels drop?
This can lead to a less happy (or unhappy) state for older introverts. I don't think this means all older introverts are depressed or unsatisfied. It may indicate that perhaps those activities which have satisfied us (reading, solo hobbies, long quiet nature walks) may be less satisfying than they once were.
What if my acetylcholine levels are low?
Medical studies have shown those with low acetylcholine levels have a much higher risk of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and heart disease. Intrinsically, this makes sense. Many of these diseases are connected to memory loss or high blood pressure and anxiety. Many introverts achieve a calmer state when their acetylcholine receptors are quenched. We are calmer and more reserved than your typical extrovert.
Will I be happier with more acetylcholine?
Theoretically, yes. As discussed at the top, introverts find their happy place by satisfying our acetylcholine receptors. If we either have less acetylcholine or do fewer activities that push the chemical to its receptors, that can be a problem. We want to keep those receptors satisfied.
Can I get more?
Yes. While there is not an Acetylcholine supplement or vitamin, there are many foods that are high in acetylcholine. Beef liver has 65% of our daily value. Others are also quite high (eggs 27%, beef top round 21%, soybeans 19%, chicken breast 13%, codfish 13%, shiitake mushrooms 11%, and more).
And while you can't get an Acetylcholine vitamin, you can get choline supplements that can boost choline levels (eg; alpha-GPC and citicoline) or others that slow the breakdown of acetylcholine (eg; Bacopa monnieri, Ginkgo biloba, and huperzines A). Choline supplements appear to be preferred as they are absorbed better and with fewer side effects.
These supplements are often called Nootropics. This may sound strange but we've all been hearing more about them lately. We see commercials on how to boost our memory, brainpower, and alertness. These are Nootropics (or smart drugs) and they help boost our Acetylcholine levels in order to support the very traits acetylcholine naturally prompts in introverts (memory, cognitive skills, analysis). Yes, people are now trying to gain some introvert traits. Ahh, how the tables have turned!
(NOTE: I'm not a doctor and I am not advocating any medical regimen. If you feel you may have low Acetylcholine levels, talk to your primary care physician to learn more and consider supplements.)
Is there a risk of too much acetylcholine?
Too much acetylcholine can lead to liver damage, low blood pressure, nausea, or vomiting. Naturally occurring acetylcholine and that which is gained through diet (see "Can I get more?" above), will not lead to dangerously high levels. However, supplements above the levels recommended or prescribed by a doctor could be dangerous.
So where do we go from here?
The study of brain chemicals and receptors can be fascinating and empowering. This is truly who we are, introverts or extroverts. We should embrace our true selves and share our strengths with the world. We may also want to consider a discussion with our doctor about our acetylcholine levels and Nootropics as part of our long-term maintenance.
References for this article
Acetylcholine Supplements: Benefits, Side Effects, Types by Ryan Raman, MS, RD; March 31, 2020; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/acetylcholine-supplement#bottom-line
Quiet Development by Project Muse (Marianne Ryan and Mark Stover); April 12, 2019; https://muse.jhu.edu/article/721419/pdf
What is Acetylcholine? Functions and Effects in the Brain by Steven Roberts, Ph.D.; February 10, 2022; https://evidencelive.org/what-is-acetylcholine/
5 Scientific Facts About the Introvert Brain by Astroligion (Jetta Moon); August 22, 2020; https://astroligion.com/introvert-introvert-personality-brain-mind-introverted/
Embracing the Introverted Brain by Mind Brain Ed Think Tank+ (Heather McCulloch); February 2020; https://www.mindbrained.org/2020/02/embracing-the-introverted-brain/#:~:text=While%20dopamine%20provides%20excitement%20and%20rewards%2C%20acetylcholine%20provides,also%20plays%20a%20role%20in%20memory%20and%20learning
What are Nootropics by WebMD (Barbara Brody); July 24, 2019; https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/features/nootropics-smart-drugs-overview
Answers Lie in the Science of the Introvert's Brain by Beyond Introversion (Steve Friedman); July 9, 2021; https://www.beyondintroversion.com/post/answers-lie-in-the-science-of-the-introvert-s-brain
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The Questions Introverts Ponder
The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. Contained in this book are many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.
Hi Steve! I just wanted to say I'm incredibly thankful that I came across your blog. I currently have your [Q&A] booklet up on my work computer and every single line resonates with me. I've struggled my entire life with introversion, but your guide is helping me realize that I need to embrace it instead of feeling embarrassed! Anyways, your content is awesome and I'm planning on sharing some info with my team. -GK 2/8/2022
I also hear from many introverts struggling to share their introversion with family, friends, and co-workers, either out of fear or just not having the words. I hope this booklet may serve to educate others to better understand the many strengths and talents we have to share.
I hope you will find this booklet an informative read and reference book with a splash of light-heartedness and inspiration as well. I invite you to start with the questions you are most curious about and share from there.
Guest Blogger: Peter Vogt
Peter shares a very insightful blog that provides new tactics for introverts:
"If You're An Introvert, You Can Bet Limits Will Liberate You!"