Study hopes to use music to combat side effects from prescribed medication

"Specific types of music should influence the way the body clears the drug," says U of A associate professor.

A new research project led by Tony Kiang aims to tie music and medication together to improve treatment of various diseases.

Kiang is an associate professor at the University of Alberta in the faculty of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences. His new study will look into the effects of music on drug metabolization.

Clearing and metabolizing drugs from the body is a complex process, Kiang said, which sometimes causes unfavourable side effects and frequent hospital visits. Kiang wants to use music to reduce these negative impacts.

“Specific types of music should influence the way the body clears the drug,” Kiang says

Kiang wants to be able to lighten the side effects of various medications using music. Music would be prescribed as a co-medication. Co-medications are typically prescribed in order to reduce the side effects from another medication. According to Kiang, prescribing music would hopefully “improve medication therapy.”

“When you see your pharmacist for consultation on co-medication, the pharmacist may suggest a medication in addition to a piece of music by Mozart. That’s what we’re aiming for in the future.”

Kiang said he has prior knowledge of the affect music has on hormones. He added that the pathways that metabolize and synthesize the majority of hormones are the same as those for medications. Kiang thinks that through indirect connections music could have an affect on how drugs metabolize and work within the body.

“My hypothesis is that specific types of music should influence the way the body clears the drug,” Kiang said.

Kiang added that this research may change drug prescriptions in the future. His main goal is to “increase efficacy and reduce side effects.”

Currently, Kiang and his team are in the early stages of the study. A music professor at Wilfrid Laurier University is collaborating with Kiang. They are currently composing individual elements of music including rhythm, dynamics, tempo, genre, and frequency. All will be tested for effects on metabolism.

However, Kiang said they also want to test classical music from artists like Mozart and Beethoven. He said these pieces have specific elements of musical composition that they’re looking to test.

“Thinking about music therapy while you’re prescribing medications — it’s not been done,” Kiang says

The study is funded by the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research 2022 Exploration Fund

“They’re looking for something that’s really unconventional and interdisciplinary … thinking about music therapy while you’re prescribing medication — it’s not been done,” Kiang said.

The research team is also considering looking at the study from an ethnomusicology perspective. Ethnomusicology is the study of music through a social and cultural lens.

The research process will use music from the participant’s culture and watch its influence on their responses. Kiang believes this “would also have very favourable and positive effects on medication regimens.”

The process will include recruiting healthy volunteers and having them listen to specific elements of new and pre-composed pieces of music. Then researchers will measure metabolism non-invasively by assessing the concentrations of endogenous compounds. These compounds are natural substances already in the body that represent major metabolism pathways.

Some musical elements may enhance or slow down metabolism, according to Kiang. Their effects are still unknown and need exploration. As a result, his “hypotheses are quite broad” at the moment.

“There’s going to be different effects from different elements of the music. Types of music will also elicit different responses in different disease conditions.”

“We’re looking to add to and improve the medication prescribing process,” Kiang says

With familial connections to music and a background in pharmaceutical sciences, Kiang said he has a personal interest in this research.

“I’m very fortunate to be exposed to music constantly. My wife has a master’s in music and my daughter has immense training in piano, cello, and saxophone,” Kiang said. 

Kiang hopes that this study will improve efficacy in the traditional health care system, rather then replace current approaches to diseases. He mentioned how integrating non-pharmaceutical elements in the prescribing process has the potential to improve medication therapy and quality of care.

“We’re looking to add to and improve the medication prescribing process. I think there’s a huge potential for changing the paradigm.”

Lale Fassone

Lale Fassone is a second-year student studying media studies and linguistics. She served as the Deputy Arts and Culture Editor in spring 2022. When she isn’t procrastinating her mountain-high workload or when not trying to learn yet another language, she can be found potentially working, writing, reading, or eating strawberries while watching the same rom-com over again.

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