Music And Medicine

Dr. Rekar in a ConsultationIt is only natural that music and medicine would go hand in hand. Human beings are rhythmic creatures. Our hearts beat. Our hormones fluctuate in circadian rhythms throughout the day and night. We sleep and wake. Our eyes blink. We breathe in and out. Our gastrointestinal tract contracts in peristaltic waves. Neurotransmitters are released into the synapses of nerve cells and then re-uptaken. We live and we die.

Most people enjoy one or more types of music including pop, rock, classical, folk songs, country, and others. But did you know that music has some medical healing qualities? As reported in the recent issue of The Health Monitor (www.healthmonitor.com), stroke patients who listened to their favorite tapes or CDs were helped to recover. The type of music didn't matter and patients listened to their choice of music for an hour a day. This study was done in Finland, and noted that the "brain begins to heal early in recovery, and that what patients hear, see, and smell as well as the movement they begin to relearn via physical rehabilitation, provides stimulation that enhances the process." The study compared stroke patients who listened to music versus audio books, versus a third group that didn't listen to anything. Among the music listeners there was a 60 percent improvement noted. Those patients who did no listening at all improved by only 29 percent, and those who listened to audio books improved by 18 percent. It also seemed that the patients who listened to music were less depressed and confused.

An article published in The Alternative Medicine Journal in 2006 noted a study done in 2001 by Dr. Barry Bitman, MD, of the Mind Body Institute in Massachusetts. The study's rationale was "to show that if an individual drummed with a group his or her stress related hormones would diminish. In the study the individuals had their blood drawn before and after each drumming session in order to determine the physiological changes." The protocol used was called "composite drumming", which was a "series of dynamic activities using drums and other rhythm instruments." It revealed that "natural killer cell and lymphokine cell activity increased." The conclusion was that the effect of drumming was to "lower stress and improve overall health." A second study was done with 125 long-term healthcare workers. The focus of the study was on self-expression using drums and not making good music. The participants were asked to express responses to different questions by drumming and afterwards an improvisational drumming session was done. The result noted in the article was "an appreciable reduction in employee burnout and marked boost in participants' moods, which further translated to cost savings in employee turnover and sick days." Registered music therapist Barry Bernstein, MD-DC noted in that same article that Alzheimer's patients could play the drums for 30 minutes, which for these patients was "an eternity in the Alzheimer's mindscape." It was noted that "rhythm is processed globally throughout the brain...primarily in the cerebellum and lower portions of the brain, which remain active even while Alzheimer's disease disrupts the cerebral cortex or higher functions of the brain."

It appears that drumming can release certain feelings which words can not necessarily express. It is a sort of emotional self-expression removing internalized blocks and changing one's feelings of depression, despair and anger to acceptance, equilibrium and even joy. An interesting source of information is the "Healing Drum Kit" by Christy Stevens, available at www.soundstrue.com.

Recent research done by psychologists at Vanderbilt University have found that "musicians more effectively use a creative technique called diversion thinking," in which they use both sides of their brain frontal cortex more than the average person. It was noted that musicians, when playing their instruments, use both hands independently, and that "musicians may be particularly good at efficiently accessing and integrating competing information from both hemispheres." In addition musicians use their left hemisphere, which is used for language, to read their musical symbols, and their right hemisphere for integrating their own interpretation to the written music. Divergent thinking enables the musician to come up with "new solutions to open ended, multi-faceted problems."

Dr. Rekar in a ConsultationThe more creative an individual the more divergent thinking he incorporates. It was concluded that "musicians had greater activity in both sides of their frontal lobes" and "there seems to be a qualitative difference in how they think about this information." Finally it was found that musicians had higher IQ scores than non-musicians, supporting recent studies that intensive musical training is associated with an elevated IQ score.

So the next time you're feeling blue, or under the weather, perhaps singing a favorite song, drumming a beat, or simply listening to your favorite CD, may be just the medicine you need to re-establish your natural harmony.

 [Above Image: Ivan At The Piano] 
[Piano keyboard Image at the top of the page thanks to jessekruger at Flickr.com.]

Universal City Medical Wellness Group (UCMWG) is a Multidisciplinary & Complementary Alternative Medical Group near Universal Studios, Studio City, Hollywood, North Hollywood, Burbank & Toluca Lake, in L.A.

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