Listening to Pleasant Music Reduces Serotonin Release, May Help Control Nausea in Cancer Patients


Michigan State University researchers have discovered that listening to one’s favorite music can be a potent, nonpharmacological intervention to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy-induced nausea. The groundbreaking study, published in Clinical Nursing Research, adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating the neurological benefits of music and its potential as an alternative treatment to complement traditional medicine.

Jason Kiernan, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing and lead author of the study, took a novel approach by investigating the effects of music-listening interventions on chemotherapy-induced nausea. The study involved 12 patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment who listened to their favorite music for 30 minutes each time they took anti-nausea medication. Whenever nausea occurred over the five days following chemotherapy treatment, the patients repeated the music intervention. In total, the patients provided 64 events for the study.

The findings of the study are highly promising. Kiernan saw a reduction in the ratings of patients’ nausea severity and distress, demonstrating the power of music to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy. However, Kiernan cautions that it is challenging to isolate whether it was the gradual release of medication doing its job or the increased benefit of the music. Nonetheless, the study’s results add to the growing body of research demonstrating the value of music as a nonpharmacological intervention to enhance medical treatments.

“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 study builds upon prior research that measures the amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, released by platelets in the blood after listening to pleasant and unpleasant music. Serotonin is the primary neurotransmitter that causes chemotherapy-induced nausea, and cancer patients take medications to block its effects. The previous study found that patients who listened to pleasant music experienced the lowest levels of serotonin release, suggesting that the serotonin stayed in the blood platelets and was not released to circulate throughout the body.

“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 medicine?” Kiernan said.

The results of Kiernan’s study have significant implications for cancer treatment and management. By incorporating music-listening interventions into existing treatment protocols, healthcare providers can enhance patient outcomes and improve the quality of life of cancer patients. The study’s findings are a promising development in the ongoing search for alternative, nonpharmacological interventions to complement traditional medical treatments.

Kiernan’s study demonstrates the power of music to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy and improve patient outcomes. As the search for alternative treatments to complement traditional medicine continues, music-listening interventions offer a promising avenue for healthcare providers and cancer patients alike.

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