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Music Increases Killer Cell Counts And Lowers Levels of Stress Hormone Cortisol

First Posted: Apr 01, 2013 11:53 PM EDT
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Listening to music has direct effects on our body chemistry, it can lower the level of the stress hormone cortisol, while immunoglobulin A and killer cell counts increase, strengthening our immune system. These are some of the highlights found by researchers conducting a large-scale review of 400 research papers about the neurochemistry of music. While it is generally known that music has benefits for both mental and physical health, it is interesting how direct the neurochemical mechanisms of listening impact our body, strengthening the immune system and reducing levels of cortisol to decrease stress.

"We've found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics," says Professor Daniel J. Levitin of McGill University's psychology department.

"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 research results gathered by Levitin and his postgraduate research fellow, Mona Lisa Chanda, shows 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).

The authors suggest a number of areas for future experiments in the field. "These include:

  • uncovering the connection between oxytocin, the so-called "love drug," group affiliation, and music,
  • administering the drug naltrexone-an opioid antagonist used during alcohol withdrawal-to uncover whether musical pleasure is promoted by the same chemical systems in the brain activated by other forms of pleasure such as food,
  • and experiments in which patients are randomly assigned to musical intervention or a rigorously matched control condition in post-operative or chronic pain trials. Suitable controls might include films, TV, comedy recordings, or audio books."

The full-text of the original study is available here.

DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2013.02.007

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