January 2013

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Healing with Music

Your next prescription from your doctor may include a playlist of songs to go with your medication. Studies of music healing show more than ever how music affects the brain and, subsequently, health, says Kamal Chémali MD, a neurologist with Sentara, an integrated health system in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and co-founder of the Cleveland Clinic Arts and Medicine Institute.

Every civilization in history has used music to heal and cure, says Chémali. “The difference now is we have ways to prove we were right about the benefits through modern technologies such as the MRI.”

Aside from medical uses, listening to music can help you prepare for an exam, improve your memory and help you sleep better, says Joseph P. Cardillo, PhD, clinical psychologist and co-author of Your Playlist Can Change Your Life (Sourcebooks). “Your brain's plasticity, or ability to change, helps you create long-term change and even target those changes to specific tasks and goals.”

For example, to “rewire” your brain to relax, first play a recording of a nature sound that relaxes you, suggests Cardillo. Then play a song you know relaxes you. You'll feel a greater effect from that song. “As little as two 5-minute applications of your playlist a day and you’ll feel better within about two week’s time,” says Cardillo.

Cardillo recommends making a variety of playlists to target different situations. For example, he recommends making two lists for driving, “One to calm down and one to bring you up if you need to be energized for a meeting or presentation.” The key lies in using beats per minute (BPM) of a song. Slow, relaxing songs include those with 100 or fewer BPM (such as Sinatra’s “New York New York,” which is in the range of 30 BPM), versus those at 100 to 130, which will start to alert you; 135 to 155 beats will bring you to a higher state of alertness and 165-plus to the highest state. High-alert songs are popular for exercising and running. Examples include:

Boys of Summer The Ataris 201 BPM
Chain Gang The Pretenders 138 BPM
Rebel Yell Billy Idol 167 BPM
Rock This Town The Stray Cats 204 BPM
Beat It Michael Jackson 139 BPM
Power of Love Huey Lewis 155 BPM

To find a song’s BPMs, search on Google by typing in the name of the song and “BPM,” says Cardillo.

“Music changes the speed at which your brain waves vibrate,” says Cardillo. So when you’re feeling elated you brain is likely producing more neurochemicals (brain chemicals such as serotonin) and your brain waves are vibrating at a higher velocity; when you’re feeling mellow you’re producing
different neurochemicals and your brain waves are vibrating at a slower velocity, explains Cardillo.

“You can trick your brain into producing more of that blood chemistry to bring you up or down and train your brain waves to enter a specific velocity at a specific time.”

For example, imagine you play the same playlist to help you relax in traffic on your way to work. In about three weeks, as soon as you get into your car—even without the playlist—your brain calls up the mindset in your head and you relax without the music. “You’re training your brain to alter itself in specific situations for the better,” says Cardillo.

For the greatest benefits pay attention to music actively rather than having it play in the background, says Chémali. Live concerts intensify music’s effects the most. “The concert setting allows you to see the emotion of the musicians. The visual effect also affects the listener,” Chémali says.
—Linda Melone

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The Chemistry of Weight Loss

The amount of information available on ways to lose weight can be overwhelming: There are books galore and diet experts on nearly every talk show. Unfortunately, many people don’t really understand how the body assimilates, metabolizes and stores food calories—and how modern processed foods throw the whole system out of whack.

Chemist Dee McCaffrey, who lost 100 pounds after replacing packaged foods with whole ones, turned her passion for nutrition into a second career. In The Science of Skinny (Da Capo Press), she shares her hard-won knowledge with a wider audience.

The first part of the book focuses on food science. McCaffrey presents famous research from the past—such as a study in which cats fed raw diets did much better than those that ate cooked food—with modern studies as proof that our bodies aren’t designed to handle refined sugars and flours, trans fats, additives and other items that originate in laboratories instead of fields and pastures. The book’s second part focuses on what McCaffrey calls “the processed-free plan for balanced eating and living.” It includes chapters on such “skinny superfoods” as organic eggs and sprouted whole-grain bread, a two-week initial phase, an ongoing phase and recipes such as Cheddar Sweet Potato Wraps and Wild Alaskan Salmon-Stuffed Tomatoes.

“We have to become conscious and aware shoppers and diners, and take responsibility for everything we put into our bodies,” says McCaffrey. The Science of Skinny is designed to give people the knowledge they need to become responsible consumers.

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Multivitamins Linked to

Reduced Cancer Risk

Taking a daily multivitamin has been found to reduce cancer risk by 8% in a large-scale, long-term study published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The 14,641 volunteers, all men initially age 50 and older, were part of the Physicians’ Health Study II. Limiting the study to doctors helped ensure compliance and high-quality reporting of health information.

The participants were randomly assigned to take either a daily multivitamin or a placebo by the Boston-based research group, which followed the men for an average of 11 years. The study’s double-blind design assured that neither the researchers nor the participants knew who was actually receiving the supplement, a precaution that helped eliminate bias in the results.

“Although the main reason to take multivitamins is to prevent nutritional deficiency, these data provide support for the potential use of multivitamin supplements in the prevention of cancer in middle-aged and older men,” wrote the team, led by cardiologist J. Michael Gaziano of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in its journal report. More than 1,300 participants had cancer to start with; only new cancers were counted in the study analysis.

These study results were also reported to an American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Anaheim, California.

This was one of the biggest, longest investigations into the effects of regular vitamin use. Gaziano did point out that supplementation is not a substitute for other healthy behaviors associated with reductions in cancer risk, such as eating properly, exercising regularly, not smoking and using sunscreen on a consistent basis.

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Art Therapy, Meditation

Can Reduce Anxiety

In “The Da Vinci Mode” (January 2009), we learned that art could help people heal either on a self-directed basis or via art therapy, in which a trained professional uses art to help a patient work through trauma and other challenges. Now it appears a program that combines art therapy with meditation may be able to help reduce anxiety under high-stress conditions, such as dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

Researchers at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine in Philadelphia assigned 18 breast cancer patients to either a standard cancer education group or a group that underwent Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT), in which meditative practices, such as breath awareness,
are paired with art tasks designed to facilitate emotional self-expression. All the patients completed a 90-item symptom checklist before and after the study and underwent imaging tests to measure blood flow within the brain.

According to a study report appearing in the journal Stressand Health, patients in the MBAT group showed blood-flow changesin brain regions linked to emotional perceptions and stress response.

They also reported lower anxiety and stress levels on the post-study questionnaire than participants in the control group.

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The Killer Couch


Number of weekly exercise minutes needed to be considered active



North Americans considered inactive


5.3 Million

Worldwide annual deaths linked to inactivity in recent studies

Sources: The Lancet

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Joint Supplements May Fight

General Inflammation

Glucosamine and chondroitin, best known for their ability to support healthy joints, and fish oil, a source of omega-3 fatty acids, have been found to reduce a key inflammation marker in a
recent study.

A research team led by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle analyzed data taken from 9,947 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They were asked about their supplementation use and their blood was tested for C-reactive protein
(hs-CRP), which indicates levels of inflammation within the body.

Compared with people who didn’t take supplements, use of chondroitin was associated with a 22% drop in CRP; reductions for glucosamine and fish oil usage were 17% and 16% respectively. The anti-inflammatory effect of glucosamine and chondroitin was more significant in women than in men.
Study results were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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