Could music be used to treat COVID-19? It seems ironic that music, one of the fields hardest hit by the global pandemic, may prove to be an effective treatment specifically for COVID-related inflammation, according to a study published in the academic journal Music & Science.
Researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville, referenced 84 research studies in their analysis, dating from 1964 to 2021. Their paper is titled Therapeutic Potential of Music-Based Interventions on the Stress Response and Neuroinflammatory Biomarkers in COVID-19: A Review.
Even as it has faded from the headlines, COVID-19 infections have actually risen over the last few months, and long terms effects are also a concern. In particular, the researchers were concerned with COVID-19’s capacity to trigger inflammation.
They also made the connection with a growing body of research that points to the potential for music therapy to have an impact on the body’s inflammatory response. It may, in other words, help to reduce inflammation.
Music and inflammation
The authors mention engagement with music, which could take the form of listening, learning or playing. Previous research shows that engaging with music can:
- Affect the body’s response to stress and inflammation;
- The blood-brain barrier can be strengthened;
- Affect the blood clotting pathway in some cases.
Music has been part of traditional medicinal practices around the world. It is known to affect the body’s physiological responses as well as our emotions. It can be used in the treatment of high blood pressure and pain, for example, as well as depression and anxiety.
When we engage with music, our body’s respond in a variety of ways, including at the chemical level. The paper points to the effects of music on psychoneuroimmunology, which links behaviour, the nervous and endocrine systems, and the body’s immune response.
COVID and inflammation
Exposure COVID-19 causes the body to launch an immune response via what are called spike proteins — a type of protein that allows the virus to enter the body. It’s that first attack that most therapies target.
As the virus disrupts the normal function, the body’s immune responses get out of control, which causes some of the worst symptoms of the disease, as well as hyperinflammation.
Many so-called long COVID patients, for example, have shown inflammation of the heart muscle, and prolonged hyperinflammation can damage the body’s major organs, including the lungs and kidneys, as well as the brain.
The researchers conclude by noting that many of the specific pathways that are activated by exposure to the COVID-19 virus overlap with those that are affected by exposure to and participation in music. They cite blood flow to the brain as an area of particular focus.
Can music have a direct effect on those processes? More research is needed to explore that potential.
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