EAST LANSING, Mich. — The right song at the right moment can turn a bad day around. Now, new findings from Michigan State University suggest our favorite tunes can also help give meds a boost. Researchers found that music-listening interventions appear to make medicines more effective.
Previous studies demonstrate how musical therapy can help treat pain and anxiety. This time around, scientists experimented with a different approach by studying the effects of music-listening interventions on chemotherapy-induced nausea.
“Music-listening interventions are like over-the-counter medications,” says Jason Kiernan, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, in a university release. “You don’t need a doctor to prescribe them.”
The study encompassed 12 patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment who listened to their favorite music for 30 minutes each time they had to take as-needed anti-nausea medication. Subjects repeated the music intervention anytime nausea occurred up to five days post-chemotherapy treatment. In all, patients provided a total of 64 events.
“When we listen to music, our brains fire all kinds of neurons,” Prof. Kiernan adds. “Pain and anxiety are both neurological phenomena and are interpreted in the brain as a state. Chemotherapy-induced nausea is not a stomach condition; it is a neurological one.”
While the research team did observe a decline in patients’ nausea severity and distress, Prof. Kiernan still cautions it is ultimately difficult to accurately isolate whether it was the gradual release of the medication producing its intended effect or the increased benefit of the music. Moving forward, the researchers plan to draw inspiration from another earlier study that had measured levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter) released by platelets in the blood after listening to both unpleasant and pleasant music.
“Serotonin is the major neurotransmitter that causes chemotherapy-induced nausea,” Prof. Kiernan comments. “Cancer patients take medications to block serotonin’s effects.”
During that earlier project, researchers noted that patients listening to pleasant music experienced the lowest levels of serotonin release, indicating the serotonin stayed in their blood platelets and was not released to circulate throughout the body. Meanwhile, after listening to unpleasant music, patients dealt with greater stress and increased levels of serotonin release.
“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,” Prof. Kiernan concludes. “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 study is published in Clinical Nursing Research.