Last summer, I had oral surgery. It was a fairly routine procedure, but to hear me tell it, you would have thought I was having a limb amputated. For some reason, I was truly terrified of being sedated, and the pre-op video that explained a cracked jaw bone was a surgical risk didn’t help.
The day of, I just took a bunch of deep breaths and came through it fine. If only I had known that my favorite band could have helped me face surgery with more confidence and heal faster afterwords.
In a recent review of 400 research papers about the neurochemistry of music, researchers found that playing and listening to music has clear benefits for both mental and physical health. If you’ve ever seen professional athletes with their headphones on right before a competition, or used a lullaby to coax a fussy child to sleep, you’ve seen this phenomenon in action.
Studies of studies, also known as a literature review, aim to sum up the results of individual research done over a long period of time. In this literature review, researchers found that music both improved the body’s immune system function and reduced levels of stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety prior to surgery.
“We’ve found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics,” says Prof. Levitin. “But even more importantly, we were able to document the neurochemical mechanisms by which music has an effect in four domains: management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding.”
The 400 studies showed concensus around several different aspects of music therapy, namely that music increased both immunoglobulin A, an antibody that plays a critical role in immunity of the mucous system, and natural killer cell counts (the cells that attack invading germs and bacteria).
Levitin and his postgraduate research fellow, Mona Lisa Chanda, also found that listening to and playing music reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body.
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