Does Music Boost Your Immune System?
We all know that listening to music can inspire positive emotions and lift a person’s spirits. But what are emotions, really?
At the biological level, emotions are manifested by neurochemical reactions in the brain. Different chemical and hormonal ratios produce different emotions. So if music can affect our emotions, it stands to reason it can affect a person’s neurochemistry as well.
There have been numerous studies showing how a positive mental attitude, which is, as we have established, the result of neurochemistry, is associated with a higher rate of longevity. Both listening to and making music can trigger this process, as you’ll soon learn.
Researchers led by Professor Daniel J. Levitin of the Psychology department at McGill University in Montreal, Canada wanted to find out if there was any veracity to this idea. They conducted a comprehensive review of over 400 scientific papers about the “neurochemistry of music; that is, the degree to which music can influence brain chemistry and thus, the emotional states of those listening to it, as well as other physiological effects.”
The review produced some fascinating results: The researchers found that listening to music produced a reduction in levels of cortisol, otherwise known as the “stress hormone.” Cortisol is a hormone that contributes to the “fight or flight” response, a physiological reaction to perceived dangers. The problem is that in modern society this response is often triggered at inappropriate times, when the body thinks everyday stresses are sources of actual danger. This chronic stress has deleterious effects upon the immune system, and even increases one’s risk of obesity.
Speaking of the immune system, it seems that music helps with that in other ways too. The researchers found that study subjects who listened to music had higher levels of “natural killer cells,” a type of cell tasked with attacking harmful bacteria, cancerous tumors, and infected cells. They also had higher levels of a specific antibody called immunoglobulin A, which is found in mucus and is responsible for preventing infections.
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