Turn On Your Body’s “Memory Preservation Machine”

Take the next 30 seconds and think of the people you care about most. Re-live a treasured memory from long ago.

I like to think about holding each of my three kids when they were infants.

Even though this type of reflection makes me emotional sometimes, I don’t mind. These feelings remind me that I’m alive!

And as the years roll by, I want to make sure I’m doing all I can to preserve my precious memories—and I’m willing to bet you feel the same.

That’s why I want to share with you a surprising way sound and vibration can help you do just that.

More vagusstoff, please!

It all started back in 1914 when English pharmacologist and physiologist Henry Hallet Dale discovered a substance released by the vagus nerve (your body’s longest nerve).

This discovery was then confirmed by physiologist Otto Loewi and was named “vagusstoff” (German for “vagus substance”)¾which we now know as the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

(Just as a refresher, neurotransmitters­ are chemicals in the brain that transmit signals from cell to cell. And acetylcholine is one of the most abundant in your body.)

They found that when the brain releases it, acetylcholine acts as a tranquilizer of sorts. It slows the heart rate, dilates blood vessels, increases bodily secretions, and helps muscles relax and contract.

They also discovered that acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter in the parasympathetic nervous system—which also helps you feel calm and relaxed.

Both men were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1936 for these discoveries that transformed the way we understand our nervous system.

And discoveries are still being made about acetylcholine, especially when it comes to brain health…

All-natural Alzheimer’s protection

In recent decades, acetylcholine has been shown to play a key role in memory function. And researchers have made a connection between low levels of this neurotransmitter and devastating brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Acetylcholine levels in dementia patients have been found to be especially low in the hippocampus—the part of your brain that helps you form:

  • Episodic Memories: Long-term, unique memories of specific events like your first day of school, your first kiss, or your wedding day.

  • Semantic Memories: Long-term memories that help you recall words, numbers, or concepts. For example, knowing the names of colors, how to use scissors, or that 5×3=15 are all semantic memories.

The good news is, your body can make more of this important brain chemical. In fact, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine revealed that stimulating the vagus nerve triggers the release of acetylcholine in both your brain and body.

But spurring the production of acetylcholine isn’t the only way your vagus nerve works to preserve your memories…

Safeguard your brain by stimulating your body’s longest nerve

In the first study of its kind, a 2019 animal trial revealed that vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) promotes positive, widespread changes in the brain.

Researchers found that four 30-minute sessions of electronic VNS in rat subjects induced a range of brain benefits—particularly in memory-centric areas like the cortex and hippocampus. Benefits like:

  • Better cortical neural remodeling (how your brain recovers itself after a brain event like a stroke)
  • Enhanced cognition
  • Improved response to stress
  • Increased brain plasticity (the development of more brain pathways)
  • Memory consolidation
  • More brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF (a protein that speeds up brain recovery after injury)

These findings led the researchers to suggest that VNS could prove beneficial in building and protecting the brain, as well as treating people for Alzheimer’s or other types of cognitive issues.

Currently, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, but I’m encouraged each time I read about exciting new research like this. I’ll keep you updated on the study results… so stay tuned to Sound Health for the latest.

In the meantime, you can start reaping the brain-building benefits of VNS right at home—starting today. All you need is the sound of your own voice.

Five simple steps to a stronger brain

Self-generated sound—like humming, chanting, or singing—stimulates your vagus nerve, similar to the electric currents used in the rat study.

It’s safe, non-invasive, and completely free.

Here’s how:

  1. Set a timer for two minutes.

  2. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose.

  3. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while simultaneously making a humming sound. Hum the entire duration of your exhale.

    Here’s what it should sound like.
  4. Repeat this inhale/exhale humming cycle for 2 minutes. Be sure to take breaks as needed. And if you get dizzy or light-headed, stop immediately.

  5. When you’re finished, take a moment to notice how you feel.

    Many people tell me they feel more centered, calm, and able to think more clearly. Others say they feel energized and more focused. I’d love to hear how it works for you. Drop me a line at feedback@donovanhealth.com.

To feel the effects of NVS more deeply, I recommend working your way up to 10, 20, or even 30 minutes of humming. Go at your own pace.

Remember, you have the ability to improve your brain health and preserve your memories all on your own. All you have to do is access the healing systems built within you.

P.S. – For even more brain-building exercises that harness the power of music, sound, and rhythm, check out my Sound Mind Protocol. You can learn more or get started today by simply clicking here!


Bergland, C. (2017). Vagus Nerve Facilitates Guts, Wits, and Grace Under Pressure. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201710/vagus-nerve-facilitates-guts-wits-and-grace-under-pressure

Cherry, K. (2019). Discovery and Functions of Acetylcholine. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from: verywellmind.com/what-is-acetylcholine-2794810

Clark, K., Naritoku, D., Smith, D., Browning, R., and Jensen, R. (1999). Enhanced recognition memory following vagus nerve stimulation in human subjects. Natural Neuroscience. 2(1): pp. 94 – 98. Retrieved from: pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10195186/

Haam, J., and Yakel, J. (2018). Cholinergic modulation of the hippocampal region and memory function. Journal of Neurochemistry. 142 (Suppl 2): pp. 111 – 121. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5645066/

Rogers, K. (n.d.) Acetylcholine. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from: britannica.com/science/acetylcholine

Sanders, T. et al. (2019). Cognition-Enhancing Vagus Nerve Stimulation Alters the Epigenetic Landscape. The Journal of Neuroscience. 39(18): pp. 3454 – 3469.Retrieved from: jneurosci.org/content/39/18/3454

Tracey, K. (2005). Fat meets the cholinergic antiinflammatory pathway. Journal of Experimental Medicine. 202(8): pp. 1017 – 1021. Retrieved from: researchgate.net/publication/7536881_Fat_meets_the_cholinergic_antiinflammatory_pathway

Zimmermann, K. (2014). Semantic Memory: Definition & Examples. LiveScience. Retrieved from: livescience.com/42920-semantic-memory.html

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.