Can Music Heal The Body?

Scientific evidence supports what most music lovers have long suspected and some traditional wisdom has already taught us: Listening to music can be therapeutic and may have a tangible healing effect on the human mind and body. And exactly how music heals — and the positive effects it can have on people's mood and overall sense of wellbeing — depends on the frequency, according to 2023 research published in the International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine.

Beginning at 174 Hz, "solfeggio frequencies" — relating to how the sound waves vibrate — have long been called "healing frequencies," shown to promote relaxation, lower blood pressure, and in some cases act as an anesthetic, among other benefits, BetterSleep writes. Human DNA's ability to absorb ultraviolet light is also affected by certain "solfeggio frequencies," research supports, linked with positive health outcomes, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the 2023 study, another solfeggio frequency — 528 Hz — reduces stress hormones like cortisol, promotes the production of hormones like oxytocin, and changes how the human body processes alcohol — three things alone offering health benefits. One other aspect of 528 Hz tones may have the most direct effect on our health, though: boosting reactive oxidative species, or ROS, in the brain.

Concerned with how human cells metabolize oxygen, high levels of ROS have been linked to tumor suppression and may play a role in some cancer treatments, according to the European Journal of Cancer. (The use of sound frequencies to treat cancer remains controversial, Reuters points out.)

Lowering cortisol helps more than just our mood

Potential cancer treatment aside, high cortisol levels in the body are linked to a long list of negative health outcomes beyond just our emotions. High stress can cause inflammation, weaken our immune system, and trigger the release of sugar from our liver. Increased cortisol levels have also been linked to high blood pressure, although the mechanism by which cortisol affects blood pressure is not well understood, according to Cleveland Clinic

Meanwhile, higher levels of oxytocin and lower cortisol — possibly affected by solfeggio frequencies — affect more than just our mental health. More oxytocin production can mean lower blood pressure, less anxiety, and less stress. From there, different solfeggio frequencies have been shown to have a number of other positive health outcomes, suggesting music truly can heal the body.

One outcome of 174 Hz is potentially acting as a pain reliever and muscle relaxant, while other evidence suggests 285 Hz might even help wounds heal and promote tissue regeneration. Listening to music also releases endorphins and serotonin in our system — reward and excitement chemicals linked with lighter moods that also influence our sleeping and eating habits, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Music and hospice care

For reasons so far outlined and more, music is increasingly used in a number of health and mental health care settings, including hospice — or end-of-life care — and PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder treatment (via Harmony & Healing). The health and well-being benefits of music can be enjoyed outside clinical settings, Humana points out. Listening to music on your own, learning to play an instrument, or attending a live concert or musical performance can all have positive effects.

According to research published in the Journal of Human Ecology, music therapy has been a part of traditional African societies for some time, and the topic of empirical scientific research since at least the late 18th century, per the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). That research has shown, according to Dr. Sanjay Gupta (via AMTA), "Music therapy helps speech, but also motor skills, memory, and balance." And music is also "emotionally uplifting," Gupta said. 

And according to the late neuroscientist Dr. Oliver Sacks, "I regard music therapy as a tool of great power in many neurological disorders — Parkinson's and Alzheimer's — because of its unique capacity to organize or reorganize cerebral function when it has been damaged."