Hypertension is the most prevalent chronic ailment in India. According to the National Health Profile (NHP) 2019 data, of all the patients who visited government clinics in 2018, 6.19% of the people were diagnosed with hypertension. It is higher than the people diagnosed with diabetes, the next prevalent chronic disease in India, which accounts for 4.75%. However, the numbers could be an underestimation, since the NHP does not assess people who visit the private clinics. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, 10.8% of all deaths in India are attributable to hypertension.
Blood pressure (BP) is a measure of pressure exerted by the circulating blood on the arterial walls. When this pressure exceeds the healthy limit (100-130 mmHg systolic and 60-80 mmHg diastolic), the condition is called hypertension. Typically, hypertension is not accompanied by symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose unless the person is regularly screened. If left unregulated for long, hypertension can lead to stroke, cardiovascular and kidney diseases. Affected individuals are advised to make healthy lifestyle changes, avoid stress and practise relaxation techniques, along with taking medications to reduce blood pressure.
Previous studies indicate that listening to music has a positive effect on people who have hypertension, depression and Alzheimer's disease. For those with hypertension, music therapy has shown the best results when accompanied by medications. However, most of these studies have used western music. In a first-of-its-kind study, a team of Indian researchers from SSN College of Engineering and Satyabhama College of Nursing, Chennai, has tested if Indian classical music can alleviate hypertension. Their findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Current Science.
"Listening to anonymous music from a different culture may curtail the emotionally rewarding path than listening to indigenous known music," says Dr B Geethanjali, one of the authors of the current study. She is an associate professor at SSN College of Engineering. "Apart from that, listening to classical music augments the intensity of neurotransmitters leading to pleasant feelings," she adds.
The researchers chose raga Malkauns, an ancient raga from Hindustani classical music, which has raga Hindolam as its Carnatic equivalent. Malkauns, with a smooth transition between its notes, is generally considered an evening meditation raga. The authors recorded a 15-minute-long audio clip of the sitar rendered Malkauns in a professional studio for their experiments.
"The uccha swaras (or the consonants) and the laya swaras (or the dissonants) were very vibrantly spaced to create an experience that is both joyful and soulfully energetic in nature," states another author Dr Mahesh Veezhinathan, associate professor at SSN College of Engineering.
About 200 elderly, hypertensive participants from a geriatric home in Chennai were chosen for the study and were segregated into two groups. The 'control' group individuals were only on medication; while those in the 'experimental' group were made to listen to the recorded music daily in the evening for a month, along with medication. They were also asked to self-assess their perceived mood before and after listening to music. The researchers measured the physiological parameters like heart rate, respiration rate and the mean arterial pressure for all the participants; initially and after 30 days.
The study found that the participants, who underwent music therapy, noted a pleasant mood after listening to music. A significant difference was observed in the measured mean arterial pressures (nearly 13 mmHg) between the experimental group and the control group, after a month. The researchers attribute this result to the music assisted activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases the heart rate.
"Music serves as an aesthetic pleasure that leads to the release of endorphins creating a sense of well-being, resulting in the reduction of heart rate and arterial pressure," explains Dr Geethanjali.
The researchers are now working on extending their analysis to another six months. "Currently, we are also working on music intervention for anxiety disorders," says Dr L Lakshmi, one of the authors and Dean at the Satyabama College of Nursing.
This article has been run past the researchers, whose work is covered, to ensure accuracy.