Composite effects of group drumming music therapy on modulation of neuroendocrine immune parameters in normal subjects

Barry B. Bittman, MD, Lee S. Berk, MPH, DrPH, David L. Felten, MD, PhD, James Westengard, BS, O. Carl Simonton, MD, James Pappas, MD, and Melissa Ninehouser, BS

Altern Ther Health Med. 2001;7(1):38-47

ABSTRACT

Context: Drum circles have been part of healing rituals in many cultures throughout the world since antiquity. Although drum circles are gaining increased interest as a complementary therapeutic strategy in the traditional medical arena, limited scientific data documenting biological benefits associated with percussion activities exist.

Objective: To determine the role of group-drumming music therapy as a composite activity with potential for alteration of stress-related hormones and enhancement of specific immunologic measures associated with natural killer cell activity and cell-mediated immunity.

Design A single trial experimental intervention with control groups.

Setting The Mind-Body Wellness Center, an outpatient medical facility in Meadville, Pa.

Participants A total of 111 age- and sex-matched volunteer subjects (55 men and 56 women, with a mean age of 30.4 years) were recruited.

Intervention: Six preliminary supervised groups were studied using various control and experimental paradigms designed to separate drumming components for the ultimate determination of a single experimental model, including 2 control groups (resting and listening) as well as 4 group-drumming experimental models (basic, impact, shamanic, and composite). The composite drumming group using a music therapy protocol was selected based on preliminary statistical analysis, which demonstrated immune modulation in a direction opposite to that expected with the classical stress response. The final experimental design included the original composite drumming group plus 50 additional age- and sex-matched volunteer subjects who were randomly assigned to participate in group drumming or control sessions.

Main Outcome: Measures Pre- and postintervention measurements of plasma cortisol, plasma dehydroepiandrosterone, plasma dehydroepiandrosterone-to-cortisol ratio, natural killer cell activity, lymphokine-activated killer cell activity, plasma interleukin-2, plasma interferon-gamma, the Beck Anxiety Inventory, and the Beck Depression Inventory II.

Results: Group drumming resulted in increased dehydroepiandrosterone- to-cortisol ratios, increased natural killer cell activity, and increased lymphokine-activated killer cell activity without alteration in plasma interleukin 2 or interferon-gamma, or in the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Beck Depression Inventory II.

Conclusions: Drumming is a complex composite intervention with the potential to modulate specific neuroendocrine and neuroimmune parameters in a direction opposite to that expected with the with the classic stress response.

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