Sometimes it hits one leg... both arms... or your entire body.
Oftentimes, it hurts so much that you can't do anything but lie down. And worst of all, this pain can last for weeks.
In an interview with University Hospitals, one longtime sufferer described it by saying, "It feels like someone's constantly stabbing you, but you're not dying. You're just being stabbed over and over for a week or more."
These sudden episodes of excruciating pain are called "pain crises," and they're typical symptoms of this disease. Folks with this blood disorder have C-shaped red blood cells (instead of normal round ones) that can't bind oxygen and get stuck in blood vessels. Restricted blood flow to limbs and organs can result in intense pain, swollen body parts, trouble breathing, and even severe lung complications that require emergency treatment.
Fortunately, sickle cell disease ("SCD") is relatively rare – fewer than 100,000 Americans have SCD. But there's no cure... Folks with this genetic condition are typically stuck with episodes of excruciating pain for their entire lives that can come on with no warning.
However, sufferers of this devastating disease have been finding some relief from an unlikely source – one that's drug free and all natural...
In a recently published retrospective study by University Hospitals Connor Whole Health, patients with either SCD or cancer reported less anxiety, reduced pain, and improved coping skills after receiving music therapy. Some of the activities included listening to live or recorded music, making music, and songwriting.
Researchers examined data on 140 SCD patients and 1,012 cancer patients who visited a medical center from 2017 to 2020. Among these 1,152 participants, 755 outpatient visits and 1,645 inpatient admissions were logged.
On average, a patient received three therapy sessions, each lasting roughly 30 minutes. Participants rated their symptoms on a scale from zero to 10 (with 10 being the most severe) before and after each session. The results showed that among both SCD and cancer patients, self-reported scores for pain, anxiety, and fatigue improved by roughly 1.5 points, 2.5 points, and 0.5 points, respectively, after each session.
Researchers believe that listening to or playing music can help release chemicals in your brain called endorphins that act as painkillers. The first part of the name comes from "endogenous," which refers to something inside your body. And the second half of the name comes from "morphine," because endorphins can block pain like an opioid.
Music helps you cope with anxiety, too. When we're stressed, our bodies release more stress hormones, or cortisol. But listening to music – especially soothing, slower-tempo tunes – can help lower those cortisol levels.
Music has other incredible benefits for your mind and body. Here are just a few...
- It boosts immune function. Listening to music can get your body to increase the production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells which can help you fight off infections and illnesses.
- It boosts your mood. Music triggers the release of the "feel good" chemical dopamine in our brains. In fact, "getting the chills" from listening to a song you like is believed to result from dopamine release.
- It boosts your stamina during exercise. Exercise releases endorphins which can help distract you from muscle pain and fatigue to get you across the finish line. And music does the same. Also, the so-called "runner's high," or the happy feeling that you get during a workout, comes from dopamine release.
- It boosts recovery after a heart attack. One study found that heart attack survivors who listened to 30 minutes of music a day for seven years reported less anxiety and pain than the folks who didn't regularly listen to music. The results also showed a 23% lower rate of another heart attack, a 20% reduced rate of needing bypass surgery, and an 18% reduced rate of heart failure among the music listeners.
- It boosts cognitive performance and protects against cognitive decline that comes with aging – especially when you challenge yourself to learn how to play a new instrument...
A small 2022 study showed that healthy older adults (ages 62 to 78) who learned how to play the piano improved their ability to remember specific events that happened to them (or episodic memory). The group of folks who practiced for 30 minutes daily (along with an hour-long lesson each week) for six months slowed the age-related rate of degeneration in a part of the brain needed for processing and collecting episodic memory.
One of my researchers has a mother who likes to keep her memory sharp by learning how to play the violin on her own. She prefers beginner's instruction books and YouTube videos to lessons since they save her money. And she says reminding herself of her goal – to play for fun instead of striving for perfection – has helped her from getting easily discouraged by a difficult song.
Finally, don't forget you have a built-in instrument... Singing releases endorphins and oxytocin in your brain, another "feel good" hormone. You don't have to be a regular Pavarotti either... Studies have shown humming releases extra nitric oxide from your sinuses. This molecule dilates your blood vessels and airways which helps circulate oxygen-rich blood to your organs.
Me, I prefer to listen to music and incorporate different genres into my daily life in different ways... Jazz is a personal favorite to listen to while I'm writing... Upbeat pop music never fails to boost my mood when I'm stressed... And fast-paced rock or hip-hop keeps me feeling energized and motivated during my vigorous HIIT (that's high-intensity interval training) workouts.
Listening to music to reap its physical and mental benefits happens to be one of my top 12 tips for a healthy year, which I featured in a recent issue of Retirement Millionaire. Think of it as Health & Wealth Bulletin's beefier cousin... with even more great advice on how to improve your health and grow your wealth, too. For more details, click here.
What We're Reading...
- Something different: The medieval thieves who had animals as accomplices.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
April 4, 2023