The Tie Between Music and Medicine

Christina Gaw

science, music, the scientific student

The effects of music on the human body have attracted scientists and researchers to investigate the relationship between music and human health, questioning how the sound vibrations have a potential to induce a physiological change in an individual.

Surprisingly, music has proved to create a medicinal effect on the body. Oftentimes music is used to benefit stroke patients and individuals with Parkinson’s Disease, a nervous system-related disease causing tremors. In both situations, central and peripheral nervous systems have been severely affected, and music helps to re-establish mental and muscle memory. Music activates the neurons across the body to transform the beats and rhythms into movement, which allows individuals, who suffer from Parkinson’s, to gain more control over the body. Slow and relaxing tunes ease the muscles of the body, shifting away from jerky movements to more fluid ones. In stroke patients, the neurologists practice the technique of melodic intonation therapy which attempts to help patients speak again by reconnecting their old neuron pathways or creating new ones. The therapist begins by playing music with lyrics, and as the individual becomes more familiar with the words, the melody is then taken out gradually until only the words are left. Through this system, the patient starts to recall other words and phrases as the sounds are slowly reduced. The effectiveness of the technique can be attributed to the brain’s plasticity. When the lyrical music is played, the right side of the brain is triggered and helps the left side of the brain to recover the language. Melodic intonation therapy has been a success for numerous stroke patients and allowed them to almost completely recover.

In addition, music has a potential use as an immune booster and stress reliever. Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, studying neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal conducted a meta-analysis of 400 studies along with his postgraduate research fellow, Mona Lisa Chanda, PhD, and observed that music improves the function of the immune system and reduces stress. Either playing or listening to music increases the body’s development of antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells, which attack any viruses that enter the body and enhance the immune response. Additionally, levels of the stress hormone cortisol are reduced in the body. Any interaction with music allows patients to eliminate acute symptoms of diseases and reduce anxiety, which is in short-term more effective than any prescription drugs.

The effectiveness of music as a method of treatment in the future is still being explored and is very appealing owing to the versatility of benefits and virtually minimal side effects. Music therapy helps to lessen or decrease the symptoms of various neurological conditions. The positive contribution of music to medicine does not give a chance to view melodies and tunes as merely an attribute of culture because in a few decades music may become a significant tool to improve overall health.

References:

Novotney, A. (2013, November). Music As Medicine. Retrieved May 18, 2016, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/11/music.aspx

Shulman, M. (2008, July 17). Music as Medicine for the Brain. Retrieved May 17, 2016, from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2008/07/17/music-as-medicine-for-the-brain

Editor: Nelli Morgulchik