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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 4, No. 5, 2005
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Robert J. Lewis
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Never mind an apple a day to assure good health, try 20 minutes of classical music instead.

That's the word from Fish Hoek physiotherapist Dr Frances le Roux, who studied the use of music to improve the outcome in people with bronchitis and pneumonia being treated at her practice.

Le Roux, who was awarded her PhD for the study from the University of Stellenbosch, says the use of music as an aid to medical treatment is new in South Africa, but is established in both Germany and the United States, a field grounded in research and professional standards set down by the International Music-Medicine Association.

In physiotherapy, Le Roux's speciality, music in medicine refers to the use of music in a role that supports or enhances treatment.

Le Roux points to the fact that not just any music will do; specific music has specific applications and for her study she used choral works, specifically Bach's Magnificat.

Electroencepholography has proved that happy and sad music is indeed the major key enforcing a positive mood or happiness, while music in the minor key is associated with sadness.

Her patients were suffering from infectious lung diseases including bronchitis and pneumonia. Half were treated with the music playing, and the other half in silence.

She was examining the effect of the music on the immune system, the endocrine system (hormonal changes), as well as the psychological state of the patients, and says the intervention showed up significant change, positively influencing emotions, decreasing the stress hormone cortisol and improving immune markers.

"The research affirms the two-way reciprocal action between the brain and the immune system," Le Roux says.

Testing was carried out by means of blood tests, in which hormone levels and immune markers were measured, as well as the internationally-accepted Profile of Mood Scale, which originated in San Diego, United States.

Le Roux says it is vital for people to know that when they have an infectious disease, the physiological process of the infection causes changes in the body's immune system, resulting in negative emotions -- stored in the amigdala of the brain.

"If negative emotions are not suppressed, the healing process is blocked, but we proved that with a certain kind of music, positive emotions can instead be stimulated, inhibiting the negative effects of anger and hostility, and so improving healing," she explains.

Negative emotions, Le Roux says, can cause weakening of the immune system, and result in behavioural changes, including depression, anxiety, anger and hostility.

While unhappiness causes alpha blockage in the brain, happiness boosts brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which positively influence the immune system.

"That means that music processed in the positive emotional centre of the brain not only inhibits negative emotions, but can also alter the brain's chemicals and hormones, so boosting the immune system," Le Roux says.

Music also apparently contributes to the increase of antibodies in the immune system and she suggests that recognizing suppressed emotions can not only result in a healthy immune system, but also ensure an endless supply of energy to the body.

"Music actually strengthens the immune system's security systems, not only giving the guards better control over their weapons, but if choral music is listened to regularly, you'll be adding preventative burglar-proofing.

"The immune system can be conditioned, and has the capacity to learn. It will mean that over time, the immune system will strengthen and begin to automatically associate choir/choral music with improvement in health," Le Roux says.

The reason classical music is selected, she explains, is that its rhythms adapt to the natural rhythms of the body -- rhythmical inconsistency. This has been found to yield a more varied expression of emotions than a regular beat. Classical music is more like a roller-coaster, waxing and waning, building, falling, racing, stopping, and then breathing, before continuing again.

This report is republished with the kind permission of the Cape Argus.

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