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Music therapy can improve medication efficacy: Research

by Pragati Singh

While listening to music is a well-known mood booster, researchers at Michigan State University discovered that music-listening therapy can also increase drug effectiveness. “Music-listening interventions are like over-the-counter medications,” said Jason Kiernan, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, adding, “You don’t need a doctor to prescribe them.”

Before, music-listening treatments were used to treat pain and anxiety, but Kiernan took a different approach by evaluating the benefits of music-listening interventions on chemotherapy-induced nausea. “Pain and anxiety are both neurological phenomena and are interpreted in the brain as a state,” Kiernan said, adding, “Chemotherapy-induced nausea is not a stomach condition; it is a neurological one.”

The short pilot trial comprised 12 chemotherapy patients who consented to listen to their favorite music for 30 minutes each time they needed to take their anti-nausea medicine as needed. They repeated the music intervention whenever nausea struck over the five days following their chemotherapy treatment. The patients in the research reported 64 incidents in total.

“When we listen to music, our brains fire all kinds of neurons,” Kiernan said. While Kiernan saw a reduction in patients’ nausea intensity and distress (how much it hurt them to be queasy), he adds that it is impossible to determine whether this was due to the medication’s slow release or the increased effect of the music. Kiernan is drawing inspiration for future research from another previously published study that examined the amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, produced by platelets in the blood after listening to painful and pleasurable music.

“Serotonin is the major neurotransmitter that causes chemotherapy-induced nausea,” Kiernan said, adding, “Cancer patients take medications to block serotonin’s effects.” Researchers discovered that patients who listened to pleasant music had the lowest amounts of serotonin release, indicating that the serotonin remained in the blood platelets and did not circulate throughout the body. Patients had higher stress and serotonin release after listening to music they felt unpleasant, according to the findings.

“This was intriguing because it provides a neurochemical explanation and a possible way to measure serotonin and the blood platelet release of serotonin in my study,” Kiernan said, adding, “In 10 to 20 years, wouldn’t it be neat if you could use a nonpharmacological intervention like listening to 10 minutes of your favorite music to complement a medicine?” The findings were reported in Clinical Nursing Research.

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