“The Mozart Effect” Holds Promise for Reducing Epileptic Seizures
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Back in 1991, a French doctor named Alfred A. Tomatis coined the expression The Mozart Effect for his hypothesis that listening to Mozart’s music could result in short-term improvement in different mental tasks. This theory caught the public’s attention, and shortly thereafter popular culture offered theories that listening to Mozart could make you smarter or have a positive effect on a child’s mental development.
The belief became so widespread that it was even trademarked, and the topic of a book of the same name was born that touted the “transformational powers of music” in health, education and overall wellbeing. But, as often happens with health fads, The Mozart Effect fell out-of-favor because of bad research methodology.
Fast forward thirty years, and The Mozart Effect is again getting attention, but this time as a promising supplemental therapeutic option for reducing the frequency of seizures in patients with epilepsy.
In a study conducted at the Krembil Brain Institute at Toronto Western Hospital, part of University Health Network, researchers found that patients who listened to a specific Mozart piece, his Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K448, had fewer seizures than those patients who did not.
A seizure is usually described as a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. This surge affects how a person feels or acts. It may cause changes in behavior, feelings and consciousness. If someone has two or more seizures or a tendency to have recurrent seizures, they are usually considered to have epilepsy. Given that epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder, affecting approximately 50 million people worldwide (some five million of whom are in the United States), this research could help millions of epileptics, especially the estimated 30 percent who do not respond well to anti-seizure medications.
This study, titled "The Rhyme and Rhythm of Music in Epilepsy,” also looked at whether other music would have the same positive effect or whether the reduction in seizure frequency was unique to this specific piano sonata. To test this, researchers had patients also listen to a control piece. After analyzing patients’ seizure journals, it became clear that while listening to Mozart reduced seizure frequency, the control music (which was the same sonata but scrambled) did not. These results are promising and the next step is to conduct larger studies with more patients, over a longer period of time.Seizures in children.
While this study focused on adults with epilepsy, one study from the United Kingdom was designed to determine if the same Mozart piano sonata movement would also reduce the frequency of seizures in children. This specific research looked at children with epilepsy who, at the time of study, were between two and 18-years-old. Researchers looked at their EEGs (which measure brain activity) while they listened to Mozart and compared them to their EEGs from when they listened to age-appropriate control music. Similar to the Toronto study with adults, this one also confirmed an anti-epileptic effect of Mozart with children. It also suggested that this effect is unique to Mozart (or at least similarly structured music).
The implications of these studies can make a great difference both in the quality of life of patients with epilepsy as well as reducing the health and other risks of having seizures. For example, among this group, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a major cause of death. While additional research is needed, it is commonly thought that SCA occurs after a seizure. Other risks of uncontrolled seizures include sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP); increased risk of injury; memory and learning problems; inability to drive, which impacts independence and mobility; difficulty in keeping a job; and problems with interpersonal relationships.
How to be proactive.
If you have epilepsy and are curious about whether The Mozart Effect could help you better control your seizures, it is important that you do not try this therapy and/or make any changes to your current epilepsy treatment regimen without first talking to your doctor or a competent healthcare provider. One key reason is that while Mozart helped in these studies, you need to keep in mind that with some forms of epilepsy, music can trigger a seizure rather than prevent it. Known as musicogenic epilepsy, this rare form of the condition is estimated to affect 1 in 10,000,000 people.
In addition to closely following your doctor’s advice and not making changes to your therapy on your own, you also need to be mindful of the role that nutrition can play in helping you better manage your epilepsy. Making sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs and in the right amounts is important in any event, but even more so if you are taking anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) since these can impact how well your body absorbs and uses various nutrients and especially critical vitamins and minerals. This, in turn, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can put you at higher risk of nutritional deficiency.
Some of the nutrients an epileptic person taking AEDs may be deficient in include:
- Calcium. Besides helping keep the body’s bones healthy, this mineral does so much more. Read here to learn about the additional benefits of this nutrient and calcium-rich food sources.
- Vitamin D. This vitamin is another bone-saving nutrient. It may even help prevent cancer. Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. Click here to see how you can avoid being deficient in this vitamin.
- Vitamin A. This nutrient is a powerful antioxidant. “Vitamin A is involved in immune function, vision, reproduction, and cellular communication,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). For a list of foods rich in vitamin A, read here. You may be surprised by some of the foods listed.
- B vitamins, including B1, B2, B6, B8 and B9 (Folate). Think of B vitamins as ‘brain vitamins.’ According to the NIH, “The B-vitamins comprise a group of eight water soluble vitamins that perform essential, closely interrelated roles in cellular functioning, acting as coenzymes in a vast array of catabolic and anabolic enzymatic reactions. Their collective effects are particularly prevalent to numerous aspects of brain function, including energy production, DNA/RNA synthesis/repair, genomic and non-genomic methylation, and the synthesis of numerous neurochemicals and signaling molecules.” For food sources of B vitamins, read here.
Additionally, patients with epilepsy are also at risk for selenium and zinc deficiencies, both of which play important roles in our immune function. Furthermore, there is some evidence that vitamin C is “considered as an antiepileptic agent and a new treatment for seizure control due to induction of protective gene expression. Therefore, vit C supplementation may benefit epileptic patients,” according to the NIH.
Credible sources also suggest eliminating simple sugars such as those found in processed foods in order to reduce seizures. It is recommended to stick to whole natural foods, meaning plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Enjoy your healthy life!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.