Mozart, Music, Babies & Health

January 24, 2010 by  
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756, was a prolific and gifted composer, and is credited with over 600 original compositions prior to his death in 1791 at the age of 35.  A child prodigy, Mozart is said to have written his first composition by the age of 5.  Although Mozart composed music in a wide variety of styles, music scholars have noted that Mozart’s compositions tend to reflect a high degree of “periodicity,” involving extensive repetition of major melodic themes, when compared to the other enduring master classical music composers of Mozart’s era.  This aspect of Mozart’s music may be clinically important as, for example, clinical research studies in adults with epilepsy have compared Mozart’s music with that of Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, Chopin, Hayden, and Liszt, among others, and found that Mozart’s music was more effective in reducing seizure activity than that of the other titans of Classical music.  Thus, some experts in brain physiology have concluded that Mozart’s compositions may particularly resonate with the human brain’s circuitry, and may potentially affect brain function in clinically significant ways.

An entire commercial industry has emerged from a phenomenon that is often referred to as the “Mozart Effect.”  Clinical research in the early 1990s with infants suggested that listening to music by Mozart could at least temporarily improve spatial reasoning, or “spatial-temporal intelligence” in babies.  The rather narrowly focused findings of these studies have subsequently been grossly over-generalized, primarily by companies marketing Mozart recordings to hopeful new parents, as evidence that regularly listening to Mozart can enhance the IQ of infants and toddlers. 

Putting aside the debate over the potential impact of Mozart on the IQ of babies and toddlers, other recent research data has suggested that exposure to Mozart’s music might be associated with improved weight gain in underweight babies and children.  A newly published prospective clinical research study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, suggests a mechanism whereby underweight premature infants may be stimulated to gain weight following exposure to the music of Mozart. 

In this prospective, randomized study, 20 hospitalized premature infants receiving liquid nutrition through feeding tubes were randomly assigned to two different groups.  In the experimental group, the pre-term babies were exposed to a 30-minute period of Mozart’s music each day, for two consecutive days.   The control group of infants, however, was not exposed to any music on these two consecutive days.  This study included a crossover design, wherein all of these infants were then “crossed-over” into the opposite group, such that each baby participated in both the experimental group and the control group.  Measurements of these babies’ rate of energy metabolism were then performed during each 30-minute period of Mozart music exposure in the experimental group, and for equal 30-minute periods in the babies that were randomized to the control group.

Interestingly, the metabolic rates of the babies exposed to Mozart’s music decreased by 10 to 13 percent within 10 minutes of starting the Great Composer’s music (compared to the infants in the control group).  This innovative little study’s finding that the rate of energy metabolism in premature infants decreases following exposure to Mozart’s music is interesting, and may explain, at least in part, the findings of previous studies that underweight children gain weight after being exposed to recordings of Mozart’s music. 

Research studies such as this one raise the question of whether or not Mozart’s music, or that of other Classical composers, should be routinely used in hospital nurseries and neonatal intensive care units.  Meanwhile, if your baby or toddler is underweight, but otherwise healthy, a trial of “Mozart therapy” might just be in order.

In view of the extreme devastation and human misery brought about in Haiti by the recent earthquake, Weekly Health Update asks our tens of thousands of caring readers to give generously to established charities that are currently working in that country to assist the injured, the ill, and the homeless there.  There are many such legitimate charities, including the following two:

Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, a professor of surgery, a cancer researcher, an oncology consultant, and a widely published author

For a somewhat lighter perspective on Dr. Wascher, please click on the following YouTube link:


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