Let Music be your Medicine

After a weekend chock-full of music – I saw James Vincent McMorrow on Friday and Coldplay on Saturday – I feel it opportune to write a quick post on its health-boosting perks.

I love music, the colour of sound. Most people do; wasn’t it Shakespeare himself who declared “the man who hath no music in himself…is fit for treasons, strategems and spoils”. I couldn’t agree more!

There is nothing on this earth that has the power to ignite, soothe, inspire, disquiet and move us quite like music does. I definitely time-travelled back to various points in my life, good and bad, while listening to Coldplay at the weekend. I remember reading an interview Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother actress Blythe Danner gave a few years ago when she mentioned that Chris Martin wrote Fix You for Gwyneth when her father passed away and that she cries every time she hears it. I think of that story every time I hear it… I remember a phase in college when we played Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke whenever anybody’s form was off kilter and it always worked wonders, pardon the pun. In a similar vein, Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name was employed to great effect when catharsis was warranted!


Skyfull of Stars, Coldplay’s A Head full of Dreams Tour, Dublin 2017


But how does music appropriate our emotions? Although it is universally accepted that music is exquisitely evocative, it is still not fully clear why. Scientists have uncovered some of the mechanisms at play. For example, listening to music augments positive emotion via the brain’s reward centres which release mood-elevating dopamine.

The potential for music therapy in healthcare is huge.

Music can have a profound effect on anxiety and stress. Its calming effect has been borne out in studies which have shown reduced stress markers (cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure) in patients post surgery who had been exposed to music versus those who had not. They music-exposed cohort also required appreciably less pain relief. The same rings true for palliative (terminally ill) patients.

In a study of over 250 premature babies in a neonatal (neonatal meaning less than 28 days old) intensive care unit, exposure to music improved their functioning on multiple levels. The babies were exposed to either lullabies performed by their parents or instrumental music performed by certified music therapists. It must trump the drone of infusions and the beeping of ventilators for the teeny tots anyway! The parents’ lullabies had the strongest impact, and the process also resulted in reduced stress levels of the participating parents: #Winning!

Although it is notoriously difficult to fillet out the effects of music from other confounding factors such as the increased physical contact and bonding, studies have shown that music made a singular offering over and above the increased social interaction.

(picture via banderasnews.com)


Music may also boost immunity. In a study conducted at Wilkes University, Pennsylvania, undergrad students had their salivary IgA levels tested before and after exposure to silence OR soothing music OR a series of clicks OR a radio broadcast. IgA is an indispensable protein at the coalface of the immune system. The students assigned to the soothing music group produced remarkably more IgA than the remainder of the subjects.

There appear to be roles for music in the domain of memory and dementia therapy. The release of dopamine elicited by music has been linked to motivation, which in turn is inextricably linked to learning and memory. In a 2008 study of stroke patients engaged in rehab, one-third were assigned to music of their own choice, one-third to audio books and the latter third to no intervention. After 3 and 6 months, the music-exposed contingent exhibited significantly increased improvement in their verbal memory skills and less confusion than their music-deprived counterparts. Their moods were also better, with significantly lower levels of depression.

Music also has applications in the realm of fitness and sport. A multitude of studies have shown it to increase the duration of work-outs, boost participants’ mood during the sessions and increase work output.


(image via Pinterest)

Sound is rooted in vibration and a new treatment which has been christened vibroacoustic therapy has been studied in Ontario and shown to improve the symptoms of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, namely reduced rigidity and tremors and improved walking speed. This treatment modality involves employing low frequency sound to elicit vibrations that are then directly transmitted to the body while the patient lies on a speaker-embedded mat or bed or chair.

Who could argue with  American-Canadian cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin when he extolled the “promise of music as medicine” given “it’s natural and it’s cheap and it doesn’t have the unwanted side effects that many pharmaceutical products do”?

I’d recommend you make like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in ‘The Day is Done’ and listen to some music this evening to unwind after your #Mondaze… I know I will.


And the night shall be filled with music,

And the cares that infest the day

Shall fold their tents like the Arabs

And as silently steal away.


As always, queries welcome and if you’d like to read more please visit skipthescript.com!


(image via Pinterest)





My name is Michelle and I’m a Dublin-based GP (family doctor). Life is short: take the minimalist approach to maximise your health!

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