Advertising
Advertising

Mozart as Medicine: The Health Benefits of Music

Mozart as Medicine: The Health Benefits of Music

David Binanay started playing the violin when he was five. By age 12, he performed at the world famous Carnegie Hall in New York City and, soon after, at the White House. In 2006, fresh from his graduation from Villanova University, Binanay was positioned perfectly to build his life around music. He moved into his own place and started a job at a high-end violin shop. That is when he noticed the bleeding.

Music and the mind

It was a gastrointestinal bleed. Binanay experienced one before and he called his mom to let her know what was happening. She wanted to help, but he stopped her. “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to handle it myself,” he said. This was the first time Binanay tried to handle a serious health issue on his own. When he arrived at the hospital, things began to spiral out of control. His hands started shaking and his mind began to separate from reality. “It was my first psychotic episode,” David recalls. The situation went downhill fast. After resolving the bleeding issue and leaving the hospital, Binanay’s psychosis continued. He started having delusions and became fearful of everything. “I couldn’t even walk into a grocery store because of the fear,” he says. “I didn’t really know what I was afraid of, but I feared for my life. In the span of one week I went from being normal to having a complete psychotic breakdown.” This was the peak of his psychosis, but his battle was just beginning. He struggled with schizophrenia for the next five years. His medications worked, but he had trouble sticking to them. There was one thing, however, that always seemed to help. “My dad would look at me and say, ‘Dave, go get your violin.’”

The healing power of music

Music stopped the pain. “Every time I did play, I noticed a change,” Binanay said. “I would channel my emotions through my music. The fear would turn to music. It would turn to sound.” A new medication schedule helped too. Binanay found it much easier to stick to his medication when he switched from pills to injections, which he only needed once a month. Today, after a five-year battle, Binanay has made a full recovery. He plays his violin up to 10 hours per day and runs a non-profit, Music Over Mind, that performs free music shows at hospitals for people suffering from mental illness.

Advertising

“Music has been my catalyst for recovery,” Binanay says. “It has been a 180 degree turnaround. From complete loss to total re-birth. I recently got married. I have my own place with my wife. I feel like I’m a better person than before my illness.”

David Binanay’s story raises an interesting series of questions. Can music help heal us? What role does music play in our health and happiness? Can music be a form of medicine?

The stroke victim who was healed by music

In her book The Power of Music, author Elena Mannes shares the story of a stroke patient who lost the ability to speak. After struggling to re-learn normal speech patterns, the patient makes a breakthrough by singing her words rather than saying them. This approach is known as melodic intonation therapy and it engages the right side of the brain more than normal speech. As a result, this different section of the brain can stand in as a replacement for the normal language area and be used to communicate through song. [1]

Advertising

At first glance, this story may seem like a very specific way to combine music and health, but it actually provides a good indication of the state of music therapy. There are many stories about music being used to help Parkinson’s patients move, autistic children focus and learn, and multiple sclerosis patients reduce spasms. These stories, however, have no research studies supporting them. My guess is that these are individualized results which, although true, are difficult to extrapolate to the entire population. That said, there are a handful of health benefits of music that are well-accepted and scientifically proven.

The research: music as medicine

Music can be used to relieve pain in patients. For example, surgery patients at the Cleveland Clinic that listened to recorded music saw a four times decrease in post-surgical pain. Music is also shown to reduce the amount of anesthesia needed during operations. [2, 3]

Music can be used to relieve stress and anxiety. Calming music decreases blood pressure, steadies the heart rate, and eases stress. Research shows that music can reduce stress for patients undergoing surgeries and colonoscopies, for children undergoing medical procedures, and for patients with coronary heart disease. [4-7]

Advertising

There is also preliminary evidence showing that listening to music can boost immune system function by decreasing stress hormones and increasing growth hormones. These changes prime the body to be in a better state for recovering from and resisting illnesses, but the research is weak thus far and needs further investigation. [8]

There are a range of studies that link music to happiness and pleasure in different ways. Despite the differences in the individual studies, the scientific consensus on the topic is that music does stimulate the same areas of the brain that trigger pleasure in other activities. A range of studies find that listening to pleasurable music stimulates the mesocorticolimbic system in the brain, which is the same “pleasure center” that is triggered by humor, tasty food, and even cocaine. In this way, you could say that music is like a drug. If music makes you happy, then it might be possible that it is good for your health. [9-12] These benefits sound great, but is music unique in providing these benefits? Not really. Given the current state of the research, it is not known if music is any better at healing than other alternatives. Music is not the only way to relieve pain or reduce stress. Music might work well for Person A, while meditation is better for Person B, and deep breathing or exercise help Person C. If nothing else, however, music is another tool at your disposal when you want to relieve pain, reduce stress, and promote healing.

The limitations of music therapy

You can summarize the current state of research on the connection between music and health by saying that we know music impacts our brains and bodies, but we don’t quite understand exactly why or how music does this. And because we don’t understand the details, it can be hard to use music for healing. To be honest, part of these issues could be solved if researchers performed better studies. Right now, researchers aren’t doing themselves any favors because musical research rarely follows a typical format. Here are a few common errors (and solutions): [13]

Advertising

  1. Current research doesn’t clearly differentiate if it is the act of playing music or the act of listening to music that benefits patients. For example, if a patient gets better after playing songs on a keyboard, chanting in different tones, or singing their favorite song, is he benefiting from the musical notes or from the act of playing music? Future studies should investigate if active performance or passive listening yields better results.
  2. Current research poorly categorizes the impact of different music styles. Most researchers lump music therapy into broad “stimulating” or “relaxing” categories. Future research should include more clearly defined boundaries, so we can understand which types of music can be used to heal in specific situations.
  3. Current research flip-flops on who controls the music. Sometimes the experimenter chooses the music. Sometimes the patient chooses her own music. This can complicate things because sometimes you are more likely to see music as having a positive impact simply if you select the music. Future research should be more clear about this selection process.
  4. Current research varies between individual listening, individual playing, and group playing. In many cases, patients may benefit from simply doing an activity with a group and not the music itself. Future research should investigate these environmental factors to help clarify the impact of individual vs. group music therapy.
  5. Current research, at least what I found, was universally missing a large, randomized trial. This type of study is the gold-standard of research and if music therapy interventions are to be taken seriously, then a high quality randomized study is needed.

The health benefits of music

Whether it is a pick-me-up song that brightens your mood or a life-saving violin practice like that of David Binanay, we have all felt the healing power of music. From a research standpoint, the health benefits of music are unproven. However, I say that I try to balance being a scientist with being a practitioner and, from a practical standpoint, there are very few reasons to avoid music as a way to improve your health and happiness. Music therapy is noninvasive, inexpensive, and convenient. And music is one of the lifestyle choices we can make that relieves stress and anxiety, decreases pain, and protects against disease. Stefan Koelsch, a senior research fellow in neurocognition at the University of Sussex in Brighton, summarizes the healing effects of music by saying, “I can’t say music is a pill to abolish diseases. But … So many pills have horrible side effects, both physiological and psychological. Music has no side effects, or no harmful ones.” [14, 15]

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Sources

  1. The Power of Music by Elena Mannes. pg. 179
  2. The Power of Music by Elena Mannes. pg. 168
  3. The Power of Music by Elena Mannes. pg. 172
  4. Cepeda, M.S. et al. (2006) Music for pain relief.
  5. Nilsson, U. (2008) The anxiety and pain-reducing effects of music interventions: a systematic review.
  6. Dileo, C. and Bradt, J. (2007) Music therapy: applications to stress management. In Principles and Practice of Stress Management (Lehrer, P.M. et al., eds), pp. 519–544, Guilford Press
  7. Bradt, J. and Dileo, C. (2009) Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients.
  8. Gangrade, A. (2012) The effect of music on the production of neurotransmitters, hormones, cytokines, and peptides: a review.
  9. Breiter, H.C. et al. (1997) Acute effects of cocaine on human brain activity and emotion.
  10. Small, D.M. et al. (2001) Changes in brain activity related to eating chocolate: From pleasure to aversion.
  11. Mobbs, D. et al. (2003) Humor modulates the mesolimbic reward centers.
  12. Blood, A.J.and Zatorre, R.J.(2001) Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion.
  13. Many of these research limitations are covered in the guide, The Neurochemistry of Music by Chanda and Levitin.
  14. The Power of Music. pg. 193-194
  15. There is one side effect of music: opportunity cost. Listening to music that makes you happy is a great way to spend your time, but only if you’re not ignoring other things that make you happy or could improve your health and lifestyle. For example, if you listened to music that made you happy all day, but never worked out, then how big of a health benefit are you really getting? The same could be said for happiness. If you simply consumed music that you enjoyed all day long would you end up living a better life than if you had spent that time building a business you loved or mastering a skill that advanced your career? As with all uses of our time, there are tradeoffs to listening to music and it’s important to balance it with other areas of life that provide a payoff.

Thanks to David Binanay for taking time to chat with me and to Sam Sager for his help researching this article.

Featured photo credit: There is nothing more to be said or to be done tonight, so hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellowmen./Flood G. via flickr.com

More by this author

7 Reasons You Haven’t Found Your Passion Yet 7 Ways To Get Over Fear and Make Big Life Changes Fast Growth Is Overrated — Here’s Why Famous Biologist Louis Agassiz On The Usefulness Of Learning Through Observation How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness

Trending in Health

1 12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health 2 17 Healthy Late Night Snacks for When Midnight Cravings Hit 3 10 Ways Helping Others Will Improve Your Life 4 Having Trouble Sleeping? 9 Quick Fixes to Help You Sleep Tonight 5 9 Simple Mindfulness Exercises to Calm Your Mind

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on August 12, 2019

12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health

12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health

Nutrition plays a vital role in brain function and staying sharp into the golden years. Personally, my husband is going through medical school, which is like a daily mental marathon. Like any good wife, I am always looking for things that will boost his memory fortitude so he does his best in school.

But you don’t have to be a med student to appreciate better brainiac brilliance. If you combine certain foods with good hydration, proper sleep and exercise, you may just rival Einstein and have a great memory in no time.

I’m going to reveal the list of foods coming out of the kitchen that can improve your memory and make you smarter.

Here are 12 best brain foods that improve memory and brain power:

1. Nuts

The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study linking higher intakes of vitamin E with the prevention on cognitive decline.[1]

Nuts like walnuts and almonds (along with other great foods like avocados) are a great source of vitamin E.

Cashews and sunflower seeds also contain an amino acid that reduces stress by boosting serotonin levels.

Walnuts even resemble the brain, just in case you forget the correlation, and are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which also improve your mental magnitude.

Advertising

2. Blueberries

Shown in studies at Tuffs University to benefit both short-term memory and coordination, blueberries pack quite a punch in a tiny blue package.[2]

When compared to other fruits and veggies, blueberries were found to have the highest amount of antioxidants (especially flavonoids), but strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are also full of brain benefits.

3. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are packed full of the antioxidant lycopene, which has shown to help protect against free-radical damage most notably seen in dementia patients.

4. Broccoli

While all green veggies are important and rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, broccoli is a superfood even among these healthy choices.

Since your brain uses so much fuel (it’s only 3% of your body weight but uses up to 17% of your energy), it is more vulnerable to free-radical damage and antioxidants help eliminate this threat.

Broccoli is packed full of antioxidants, is well-known as a powerful cancer fighter and is also full of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function.

5. Foods Rich in Essential Fatty Acids

Your brain is the fattest organ (not counting the skin) in the human body, and is composed of 60% fat. That means that your brain needs essential fatty acids like DHA and EPA to repair and build up synapses associated with memory.

The body does not naturally produce essential fatty acids so we must get them in our diet.

Advertising

Eggs, flax, and oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring are great natural sources of these powerful fatty acids. Eggs also contain choline, which is a necessary building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, to help you recall information and concentrate.

6. Soy

Soy, along with many other whole foods mentioned here, are full of proteins that trigger neurotransmitters associated with memory.

Soy protein isolate is a concentrated form of the protein that can be found in powder, liquid, or supplement form.

Soy is valuable for improving memory and mental flexibility, so pour soy milk over your cereal and enjoy the benefits.

7. Dark Chocolate

When it comes to chocolate, the darker the better. Try to aim for at least 70% cocoa. This yummy desert is rich in flavanol antioxidants which increase blood flow to the brain and shield brain cells from aging.

Take a look at this article if you want to know more benefits of dark chocolate: 15 Surprising and Science-Backed Health Effects of Dark Chocolate

8. Foods Rich in Vitamins: B vitamins, Folic Acid, Iron

Some great foods to obtain brain-boosting B vitamins, folic acid and iron are kale, chard, spinach and other dark leafy greens.

B6, B12 and folic acid can reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine increases are found in patients with cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s, and high risk of stroke.

Advertising

Studies showed when a group of elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment were given high doses of B6, B12, and folic acid, there was significant reduction in brain shrinkage compared to a similar placebo group.[3]

Other sources of B vitamins are liver, eggs, soybeans, lentils and green beans. Iron also helps accelerate brain function by carrying oxygen. If your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, it can slow down and people can experience difficulty concentrating, diminished intellect, and a shorter attention span.

To get more iron in your diet, eat lean meats, beans, and iron-fortified cereals. Vitamin C helps in iron absorption, so don’t forget the fruits!

9. Foods Rich in Zinc

Zinc has constantly demonstrated its importance as a powerful nutrient in memory building and thinking. This mineral regulates communications between neurons and the hippocampus.

Zinc is deposited within nerve cells, with the highest concentrations found in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for higher learning function and memory.

Some great sources of zinc are pumpkin seeds, liver, nuts, and peas.

10. Gingko Biloba

This herb has been utilized for centuries in eastern culture and is best known for its memory boosting brawn.

It can increase blood flow in the brain by dilating vessels, increasing oxygen supply and removing free radicals.

Advertising

However, don’t expect results overnight: this may take a few weeks to build up in your system before you see improvements.

11. Green and Black Tea

Studies have shown that both green and black tea prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine—a key chemical involved in memory and lacking in Alzheimer’s patients.

Both teas appear to have the same affect on Alzheimer’s disease as many drugs utilized to combat the illness, but green tea wins out as its affects last a full week versus black tea which only lasts the day.

Find out more about green tea here: 11 Health Benefits of Green Tea (+ How to Drink It for Maximum Benefits)

12. Sage and Rosemary

Both of these powerful herbs have been shown to increase memory and mental clarity, and alleviate mental fatigue in studies.

Try to enjoy these savory herbs in your favorite dishes.

When it comes to mental magnitude, eating smart can really make you smarter. Try to implement more of these readily available nutrients and see just how brainy you can be!

More About Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

Read Next