Music 'can boost immune system'
Published 09/09/2016 | 17:56
Music could boost the immune system and help people recover from illness, scientists have claimed.
Research down the decades has proved that music can boost people psychologically, but academics believe it might also have a biological effect.
Research between Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College of Music has found that singing for an hour can increase levels of immune proteins, reduce stress and improve people's mood.
A total of 193 members of five different choirs were tested for levels of the stress hormone cortisol and cytokines - immune system signalling molecules that boost the body's ability to fight serious illness.
Speaking at the British Science Festival in Swansea, report co-author Dr Daisy Fancourt said evidence found as well as reductions in cortisol, singing also led to increases in the anti-inflammatory cytokines - IL17 and IL4.
She said: "This suggests that music is reducing stress levels and temporarily leading to a boost in our immune activity."
The study also found mood improvements and reduced levels of inflammation for people suffering with depression during a separate 10 week study, which saw people take part in a drumming workshop.
She added: "Around 30-50% of people with depression have higher rates of inflammation.
"We found that people who did not take part in the drumming workshops had almost identical levels of inflammation, but there was a 23% reduction in depression levels after six weeks for those who took part. After 10 weeks, depression levels had reduced by 40%."
Scientific studies in the past have written off music as mere "auditory cheesecake" and while having cultural value it is "biologically useless".
However, Dr Fancourt said during her presentation in the Taliesin Theatre that music might have had an evolutionary purpose.
She said: "As our ancestors went from four to two legs, our hips got narrower.
"As a result women had to give birth earlier so the babies didn't grow too big inside the womb.
"Babies were then born at an earlier stage of development and importantly an earlier stage of neurological development.
"It is thought that developed as a way of mothers reassuring their babies and communicating with them. We know that arches of sound are easier for babies to understand than spoken word."
She also said that music can have wide-ranging effects on the hormones cortisol and adrenaline - which often kick in during stressful situations.
However, when playing music or singing Dr Fancourt added: "The body experiences less of the signals in terms of the 'fight or flight' response and leads to a reduction in adrenaline.
"And also you experience a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol afterwards... even when you are just listening to music.
"People might think that music reducing stress is not really ground-breaking and obvious... but we have found also that it can lead to a reduction in biological stress.
"The biological changes that we are seeing, are they small and insignificant or could they have impacts on our health?
"The answer is that so far it is a both... the research is still in the early days.
"However, we hope to expand it in the future with further studies."