Scientists Discover a Simple Way To Improve Medication Efficacy: Listen to Your Favorite Song

Man Pouring Drugs into Hand Medicine Aspirin

Researchers at Michigan State University found that music-listening interventions can enhance the effectiveness of medicines, particularly in reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea. Future studies may investigate the neurochemical basis for this effect by measuring serotonin levels, potentially leading to nonpharmacological interventions complementing traditional medicine.

Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered that not only is listening to a favorite song a well-known mood enhancer, but musical interventions can also increase the efficacy of medication.

“Music-listening interventions are like over-the-counter medications,” said Jason Kiernan, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing. “You don’t need a doctor to prescribe them.”

Previous studies have utilized music-listening interventions as a means of addressing pain and anxiety, however, Kiernan adopted an innovative approach by examining the impact of musical interventions on chemotherapy-induced nausea.

“Pain and anxiety are both neurological phenomena and are interpreted in the brain as a state,” Kiernan said. “Chemotherapy-induced nausea is not a stomach condition; it is a neurological one.”

The small pilot study included 12 patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment who agreed to listen to their favorite music for 30 minutes each time they needed to take their as-needed anti-nausea medication. They repeated the music intervention anytime nausea occurred over the five days beyond their chemotherapy treatment. The patients in the study provided a total of 64 events.

“When we listen to music, our brains fire all kinds of neurons,” Kiernan said.

While Kiernan did see a reduction in the ratings of patients’ nausea severity and their distress (how much it bothered them to be nauseous), he cautions that it is difficult to isolate whether it was the gradual release of the medication doing its job or the increased benefit of the music. For future studies, Kiernan is drawing inspiration from another previously published study that measured the amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, that was released by platelets in the blood after listening to unpleasant and pleasant music.

“Serotonin is the major neurotransmitter that causes chemotherapy-induced nausea,” Kiernan said. “Cancer patients take medications to block serotonin’s effects.”

During that previous study, researchers found that patients who listened to pleasant music experienced the lowest levels of serotonin release, indicating that the serotonin stayed in the blood platelets and was not released to circulate throughout the body. Results also showed that after listening to music they found unpleasant, patients experienced 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,” Kiernan said. “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?”

Reference: “Mitigation of Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea Using Adjunct Music Listening: A Pilot Study” by Jason Micheal Kiernan, Ph.D., RN, ACNP and April Hazard Vallerand, Ph.D., FAAN, 6 February 2023, Clinical Nursing Research.
DOI: 10.1177/10547738221149895

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