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The Little-Known Chemical that Has a Big Impact on Healthy Aging

I think it’s safe to say we’d all like to keep our minds sharp as we age. And Big Pharma knows it. Which is why they’ve spent millions of dollars over the past several years developing a class of “smart drugs” called nootropics that they claim can help improve mental performance.

While it’s possible some of these products might work, there’s still a significant lack of research showing their true effectiveness—and safety.

Meanwhile, one key, natural neurotransmitter—called acetylcholine—could make a big difference in your physical and mental health as you age.

And today I’ll tell you how to boost your levels without taking a single pill.

Acetylcholine 101

Over the years, researchers have come to understand that acetylcholine plays a critical role in each moment of our day.

Every thought that leads to a physical action—running, walking, lifting a mug of tea, etc.—depends on acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is found in all the brain cells that help your muscles contract. Which means it also plays a key role in vital physical actions you don’t think about—like blinking, breathing, and your heart beating.

It also plays a key role each time one of the billions of synapses fire off in your brain. Unfortunately, reduced levels of this neurotransmitter have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

But as I mentioned above, the good news is that there’s an easy, pill-free way to boost your acetylcholine levels: Stimulating your vagus nerve.

Make more Vagusstoff

Back in the early 1900s, scientists had just discovered the vagus nerve and began to notice that it produced a liquid-like substance. Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Otto Loewi called it “vagusstoff,” but today we know it as acetylcholine.

And as it turns out, stimulating your vagus nerve is your body’s “built-in” way to support the production of this all-important chemical.

Here’s an easy exercise you can do daily to stimulate your vagus nerve and, in turn, boost your acetylcholine levels:

  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and get comfortable.
  2. Take a moment to note how you feel physically and mentally.
  3. Use YouTube or a music streaming app to play one of your favorite songs with lyrics.
  4. During the singing parts you may either sing along with the words or simply hum along with the melody.
  5. During any instrumental parts without singing, take a few slow, deep breaths.
  6. Repeat these steps for as many songs as you like.
  7. When you’re finished, take note of how you feel.

Always remember that it’s not important whether you’re in tune or not—or have a “good” voice. The benefits come from the process of making your own vocal sound.


P.S. If you enjoy articles like these, you're invited be a part of my free e-newsletter The Jim Donovan Digest.  Each week, I’ll bring you all the latest news—plus helpful tips on using sound, music, and rhythm for your health and well being.


Breit, S., Kupferberg, A. Rogler, G., and Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers of Psychiatry. 9:44. Retrieved from:


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