It turns out choir practice may have even more health benefits than we first thought! In a fascinating study, it seems regular choir practice might even help boost the immune system of immunocompromised cancer patients.
Not only were there measurable reductions in stress hormones but patients involved in choir activities saw an increase in immune-related proteins and a reduction in inflammation-related proteins. This was measured directly after the singing session when the results were assumed to be strongest.
Conventional cancer treatments lower the patient’s normal immune system so to see a possible solution to this particular problem is interesting, to say the least. “We’ve long heard anecdotal evidence that singing in a choir makes people feel good, but this is the first time it’s been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing. It’s really exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future” said Dr Ian Lewis, Director of Research and Policy at Tenovus Cancer Care, the organisation behind the study, which partnered with the Royal College of Music.
Depression and anxiety are also very common in cancer sufferers. We’ve discussed the benefits of singing in relation to these mental health difficulties before but the study linked above actually found that the biggest response was actually in those who suffered worse. Incredibly, those who were most depressed or most anxious before singing ended up experiencing the greatest benefit.
Several patients on the study reported a greater degree of physical comfort – “you walk in aching but you could skip out,” one reported. This could be due to the mild euphoria deep breathing can produce, as well as the reduction of psychosomatic pain (pain caused by the mind, often associated with depression)
Though the study was not perfect, there’s a lot of positives to be drawn and exciting discussions to be had about the future of choirs and medicine. The same team behind the study have launched a two-year study to better study their results and address their methodology, which is due to conclude sometime next year. We can’t wait to pick through their updated findings.
D. Fancourt, A. Williamon, L. A. Carvalho, A. Steptoe, R. Dow and I. Lewis 2016, ‘Singing modulates mood, stress, cortisol, cytokine and neuropeptide activity in cancer patients and carers’, eCancer Medical Science
Tenovus Cancer Care, 2016. Tenovuscancercareorguk. [Online]. [29 November 2018]. Available from: https://www.tenovuscancercare.org.uk/news/our-research-proves-singing-is-good-for-you/
NHS UK. 2016. nhs.uk [Online]. [29 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/news/cancer/choir-singing-may-boost-immunity-in-people-affected-by-cancer/