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New studies reveal music’s effect on our brain and heart

The Tchaikovsky cure for worry + Beethoven’s diagnosis (!) + music’s effect on the heart. Plus, Covid alarms experts (again) + other vital virus news.
Back view backlit shot of unrecognizable woman in a wheelchair listening to music in her headphones and looking through window thinking of something.

Crickets, creepers + birdsong have a calming effect on the human brain. So if parades + fireworks threaten to rile up your anxiety this week, maybe tune into those summer soothers.

For further inspiration, let's dig into recent music medical findings that'll ease + intrigue. Then, we close with empowering virus updates.

But first, do-re-me-fa-go into your…

  • Checkup: weird + helpful how-to’s 
  • I Hear That! lead + anxiety + heart rate
  • Healthcare: viruses + vaccines + free tests

The Checkup: 

That’s heavy (metal)

A Chinese violin maker working and making a cello in her workshop.

We often recall composer Ludwig van Beethoven via his 5th Symphony (dun dun dun dun) and because he became deaf in his forties. But Beethoven also lived with crippling gastrointestinal issues and pain. His symptoms were so severe that he insisted his brother reveal them after his death.

Nearly 200 years later, Beethoven’s been diagnosed!

Scanning his hair strands, scientists found lead levels 95 times higher than today's averages. Our bodies don’t need lead—it breaks into enzymes and molecular structures and messes them up, causing brain and kidney damage and hearing loss. But in the 19th century, Beethoven would have drank wine sweetened with lead… from lead goblets.

Recent genetic sequencing only revealed the composer was at risk for liver disease, which wouldn't have predetermined his health issues. Now, the scientists are amazed he composed 700+ works with lead poisoning—the confirmed cause of his chronic illness + death at 56.

Learn more about these new findings + lead safety warnings at NPR.

The Tchaikovsky Cure

A young Asian woman with Downs syndrome wearing a red dress paints at an easel by windows in a brightly lit, warm dining room.

In copious letters to loved ones, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (of The Nutcracker fame) shared how he was riddled with chronic anxiety + depression and a general “hatred for the human race.” Only when creating music was he at total ease. Today, science supports “the Tchaikovsky Cure.”

More than increasing happiness, studies show that creative activity can lower unhappiness, stress, anxiety and PTSD. That’s because the area of our brain associated with mind-wandering (medial prefrontal cortex) fires up while we work on a creative task. This area also activates during meditation, suggesting a soothing link between artistic tasks and intentional contemplation.

We don’t have to be creative geniuses to benefit. The right side of the brain (the “creative” side) activates even more when we’re learning a new skill.

Like any treatment, creativity is most effective when practiced regularly.

Head to the Atlantic for more science. Plus, tips on choosing creative pursuits based on your personality type.

Music as medicine?

A woman playing keyboard and a man playing guitar in a recording studio

Countless religions, communities + individuals use music for emotional + spiritual healing—and plenty of studies confirm it can improve mood + reduce stress.

But as reported in Big Think, music can change our heart muscle for the better, too.

In one recent observational study, participants who experienced music therapy with calming or pleasantly stimulating music showed “significantly increased” heart rate variability (HRV). HRV measures the time between heartbeats, which indicates how well our nervous system is functioning and, therefore, our ability to adapt to stressful situations. And our ability to stay calm amongst stress promotes general cardiovascular health!

So, if you’re dealing with hypertension or wanna improve your stress or general heart health, give music therapy a try!

(Don’t stop taking hypertension meds without a doctor’s all-clear. For a convenient way to refill your current prescription, take a streamlined $15 online consultation.)

Healthcare 411

You can get free at-home HIV tests every 3 months until 2027 (Self). The CDC-funded Together TakeMeHome program provides a free test every 3 months. It detects HIV antibodies in the immune system and offers 92% sensitivity (meaning it will report 1 false negative for every 12 positive cases). Antibodies can take up to 3 months to develop. So experts recommend taking 2 tests within 3 months after potential exposure.

COVID is surging right now. Here’s what alarms doctors the most. (HuffPost). An expected surge has started earlier than expected, probably because the FLiRT variants making up more than 50% of infections are better at evading immunity. Only 22% of adults got the updated vaccines, so we’re less protected than we’ve been. FLiRT doesn't cause more severe illness. But experts recommend masking outdoors in crowded areas, given how fast they can spread. If you’re at high risk, you must start taking antiviral meds within 5 days of Covid-19 symptoms. Get Paxlovid online within 3 hours with a Dr. B $15 chat or video consultation.

Get Covid-19 care.

What you need to know about bird flu vaccines (Time). The government has stockpiled hundreds of thousands of doses of three vaccines that protect against H5N1. While not ready to ship now, they could be deployed over a few weeks if needed. They haven’t been tested against current bird flu strains but should be sufficient. And if needed, the drug companies can produce 150 million doses within six months.

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