We’ve been playing music since back during the Paleolithic times, 40,000 years ago, with music as therapy documented at least since Biblical times. The first such experiment was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1914. Phonograph in operating Room “as a means of calming and distracting patients from the horror of the situation” as they lie awake during surgery.
Now that we have anesthesia, music is used to calm nerves before surgery. Normally we use Valium-type drugs like midazolam, sold as Versed, but it can have a variety of side effects–including sometimes making people even more agitated. So this study was performed to see if relaxing music has a greater anxiety-reducing effect than a standard dose of the drug. So, they whipped out some Kenny G., and the music worked significantly better than the drug: lower anxiety scores, lower heart rate, lower blood pressure. Perhaps the first report of any anti-anxiety therapy working not just as good as, but better than benzodiazepine drugs.
And the difference in the side effects of relaxing music compared to the drug is obvious. There were none. Soft jazz causes no post-operative hangover, so the researchers suggest we should start using music instead of midazolam.
Music may be effective in reducing anxiety and pain in children as well— undergoing minor medical and dental procedures, helping with blood draws, getting their shots — even reducing the pain of spinal taps, though evidently Mozart is powerless against the pain of circumcision.
But it doesn’t take a randomized controlled trial to demonstrate that listening to music can be relaxing. Tell me something I don’t know. Ok, this I did not know. If you take someone with a latex allergy and inject their skin with latex, they get a big, red, angry bump. But, if you repeat the test after they’ve been listening to Mozart for 30 minutes, they develop a much smaller bump. They had less of an allergic reaction. And if you think that’s wild, Beethoven didn’t work; same reaction before and after. Schubert, didn’t work either, nor did Haydn, or Brahms; both failed to reduce the allergic skin responses.
Thus, the reducing effect on the allergic responses may be specific to Mozart. So, Mozart’s looking pretty good—but wait a second, maybe Mozart suppresses the immune system in general? That wouldn’t be good, so they also injected a chemical that causes reactions in everyone, not just allergic people, and Mozart had no effect.
So it seems to just suppress the pathological allergic reaction, and if that isn’t crazy enough for you, they drew people’s blood after the music and stuck their white blood cells in a Petri dish with a little latex and measured the allergic antibody response. The white blood cells from the person exposed to Mozart had less of an allergic response, even outside the body, compared to cells taken from Beethoven blood. That is cool.
Music may even impact our metabolism. It all started with this study, which found that the resting energy expenditure—the resting metabolic rate, the amount of calories burned just lying around—was lower in preemies when they piped in Mozart, which may explain why infants exposed to music put on weight faster, so much so they were able to go home earlier. Gaining weight faster is great for premature babies, but not necessarily for adults.
Could listening to music slow our metabolism and contribute to weight gain? No, this study found no effect on adults. But, they used Bach, not Mozart, and Bach doesn’t work for babies either. A drop in energy expenditure on Mozart, but not on Bach. This would suggest that it may be more of a “Mozart-specific effect” than a universal “music effect.”
What if you just listen to music of your choice—does it affect your metabolism or not? We didn’t know, until now. And it turns out that listening to music appears to actually increase our metabolic rate, such that we burn an average of 27.6 more calories a day even just lying in bed, though that’s only about six M&Ms worth. Better to use music to get up and start dancing or exercising. Music can not only improve exercise enjoyment, but performance as well – a way to improve athletic performance that’s legal.
Male body builders may be less enthused by this effect, though. After listening to music for just 30 minutes, testosterone levels drop 14% in young men and go up 21% in young women. All kinds of music or just some types of music? 30 minutes of silence had no effect, same testosterone levels before and after. But a half hour of Mozart suppressed testosterone, as did jazz, as did pop music, as did Gregorian chants (no relation).
What about a half hour of people’s personal favorites? Testosterone levels cut in half. Testosterone decreased in males under all music conditions, whereas testosterone increased in the females. What is going on? Well, in men, testosterone is related to libido, dominance, aggressiveness, whereas women get a bigger boost in testosterone from cuddling than from sex and so, maybe we evolved using music as a way to ensure we all got along. Like a melodious cold shower to keep everyone chilled out.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial.
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