But in a paper published in the November issue of Medical Hypotheses, Miller suggested the way by which emotions -- such as those triggered when listening to a favorite tune -- might influence the heart.
"Endorphins or endorphin-like compounds are released from the brain in response to pleasurable emotions," he said. "That directly activates the endorphins to release nitric oxide. It's a protective chemical, one of the important chemicals produced by the endothelium [the inner lining of the blood vessels]. It's important in biological and physiological functions -- it causes blood vessels to dilate, it reduces inflammation, it prevents platelets from sticking and cholesterol from being taken up into plaque."
But that might be just part of the story, Miller said. "There are likely to be other effects that have been largely unexplored," he said.
Stress reduction that results from listening to good music might also explain the health benefits, said Aniruddh Patel, a senior fellow at the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego. "Music is known to reduce people's stress and actually have physiological effects on the stress hormone cortisol," he said.
In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, music was reported to help people who'd had a stroke recover their sight, and Patel said that makes sense.
"The brain is trying to heal itself," he said. "The less stress hormone floating around up there, the better the brain can do its job." That's possibly why it worked, he said.
And as studies continue to find additional benefits from music, scientists continue to investigate the underpinnings.
"We have a trickle of information now about how it works," Patel said. "I think this is a growing area. That trickle is going to become a s
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