Your Route to Healthy Living Is Through Your Ear

In our Baltimore office, the editorial floor (where I often work), is the quietest floor in our building.

Aside from the occasional whispered conversation, all you hear is the gentle white noise from the ceiling speakers. Most of the folks I share the floor with spend their days reading, writing, and researching. So, it's no wonder it's quiet.

But my longtime assistant, and Health & Wealth Bulletin managing editor, can tell you I like to liven things up when I'm around.

At the end of one particularly busy and stressful Friday, you could feel the tense mood. So, I turned up my office speakers and started playing upbeat music. After the first sounds of the Jonas Brothers drifted out of my office, you could hear the chuckles. (I think they thought I was too old to listen to them.)

Sound has an incredible influence on our minds...

It can calm us when we're stressed. But too much sound – noise pollution – can overwhelm our body and emotions. People can even lose their minds when there's a lack of sound because we use sound to orient ourselves to our surroundings. For example, research shows people who spend even just a few minutes in a sensory deprivation chamber can become disorientated and anxious.

We experience sound via vibrational frequencies that travel as energetic waves through matter (solid, liquid, or gas). Soundwaves travel from an original source, to our eardrum and through our ear canal, and get transformed into neurological messages that travel to our brain to be sensed, identified, and categorized.

Many cultures have used sound as a healing mechanism for thousands of years. Australian natives use the didgeridoo as a healing tool to help facilitate meditation. And we've shown readers for years how meditation helps calm the mind and even improves your body's ability to heal itself.

Tibetan and Himalayan peoples traditionally create sound baths – using a variety of instruments to "bathe" the listener in sound – as a healing modality as well. Like the didgeridoo, the sound bath switches on your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls a lot of activities associated with rest and healing (it's our "rest and digest" system that balances our fight-or-flight response).

In the U.S. and other parts of the world, a technique known as "binaural beats" is gaining steam as a scientifically significant treatment for anxiety, stress, sleep, pain, cognition, and memory. Research into binaural beats is ongoing, but we have already learned some pretty fascinating things...

Binaural beats are made using sounds that enter the ears at two different frequencies, measured in hertz (Hz). For example, while listening to a binaural beat through your headphones, your right ear may receive a frequency of 200 Hz while your left ear receives a frequency of 205 Hz. That causes a discrepancy of 5 Hz between the two sides of your brain and body. Your brain senses the two frequencies and blends them together... the 200 Hz from the right ear essentially cancels out 200 Hz from the left ear, so you hear only 5 Hz (the difference between the two).

Your brain then naturally synchronizes with the 5 Hz sound that it is experiencing. This process is called "brainwave entrainment"... when your brainwaves match up with the soundwaves that it's receiving.

When your brainwaves synch to experience a 5 Hz soundwave, you have theta brainwaves occurring. Theta waves range from around 4 Hz to 8 Hz and are commonly experienced during rapid-eye movement sleep, when dreaming takes place. These theta waves allow the brain and body to enjoy deep relaxation, meditation, and they encourage creativity as well.

In addition to theta waves, binaural beats can be made to trigger other brain wave frequencies, the so-called delta, alpha, beta, and gamma waves.

  • Delta waves range from 0.1 Hz to 4 Hz. They promote deep sleep, pain relief, anti-aging effects, and healing within the body.
  • Theta waves range from around 4 Hz to 8 Hz. They promote deep relaxation, meditation, and they encourage creativity.
  • Alpha waves range from 8 Hz to 13 Hz. They promote relaxed focus, stress reduction, positive thinking, and fast learning.
  • Beta waves range from 13 Hz to 30 Hz. They promote focused attention, cognitive thinking, problem solving, and an active mind.
  • Gamma waves are 30 Hz and above. They promote high-level cognition, memory recall, and peak awareness in the brain.

Choosing the right binaural beat frequency to match your desired intent is important. For instance, one study found that using beta binaural beat stimulation (at 13 Hz) twice a day for 15 minutes at a time increased participants' verbal memory recall. However, participants using thetabinaural beat stimulation (at 7 Hz) for a single 30-minute session experienced decreased verbal memory recall. This makes sense, given the knowledge of what each type of wave does... theta waves relax you and beta waves focus you.

Another study found that exposure to binaural beats is associated with changes to three hormones that play a big role in sleep and the immune system: dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), cortisol, and melatonin...

DHEA is one of the most abundant steroids in humans and regulates the production of other hormones in the body. Several hormones are used to support the immune system. It also suppresses cortisol, allowing you to sleep. After using binaural beats, 68% of the study's participants experienced an increase in DHEA.

Cortisol is released as the body's natural response to stress and can lead to insomnia when too much of it is present. It stimulates alertness and attention. This study found that 70% of its participants saw a reduction in cortisol levels after being exposed to binaural beats.

Melatonin promotes sleep and regulates our circadian rhythms. In this study, more than 97% of its participants experienced an increase in their levels of melatonin.

A 2005 study found that pre-operative anxiety levels were reduced by half when participants used binaural beat stimulation for 30 minutes prior to surgery. This condition was observed along with two other groups: one group listened to music for 30 minutes and the other group was allowed to read or watch television for 30 minutes. The participants using binaural beats experienced the best outcome of all three scenarios.

One of the best things about experimenting with binaural beats as a healing modality is that as long as your headphone volume isn't up too high, and assuming you don't have epilepsy, there are no known side effects. In contrast, the pills that get prescribed to us like candy come with a long list of side effects and contraindications. If you have epilepsy, discuss using binaural beats with your neurologist before trying them out.

So, take charge of your ailments and see if adding binaural beats into your daily or weekly routine is helpful for you. You have nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

What We're Interneting...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 21, 2021