Add a little melody to ease the symptoms of menopause

They say music calms the wild beast, but can it calm a miserable woman in menopause? A recent study suggests yes.

From trouble sleeping to aching joints, women can experience a range of symptoms related to the onset of menopause. These can make life unpleasant. However, a Turkish study has found that “music can be useful,” said Dr Stephanie Faubion, who was not involved in the study. She is the director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic and of The North American Menopause Society, which published the study last month in its journal Menopause
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The new study involved postmenopausal women ages 40 to 65, meaning the participants had not had their periods for at least 12 months. To begin, all participants rated the level of their menopausal symptoms, from their irritability to how bad their hot flashes were. They also rated their degree of depression: For example, did they feel a failure or cry a lot? About half of the women were then asked to listen to music in a quiet environment for the next six weeks — a minimum of 18 15-minute sessions. The other half received no instructions. After the six weeks, all completed the surveys again.

The women who listened to music did better than those who hadn’t. After their listening sessions, they rated their menopausal symptoms significantly lower, and their depression levels dropped over the course of the study. The women in the control group did not show the same improvement.

Why would music have such an effect? “It’s probably soothing, and it helps your brain release good chemicals that make you relaxed and happy,” such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin, Faubion says. It can also reduce stress hormones such as cortisol. These all affect blood pressure and heart and respiratory rates.

Indeed, the study authors noted that the Büzürk mode of Turkish classical music “comforts and calms” listeners.

These effects are “hardly surprising,” Faubion says. “In other studies, music therapy has been shown to be helpful with regard to mood.” For example, one study used music alongside muscle relaxation training to help patients with mental illness sleep better and control their anger. Listening to music has also been shown to improve the mental health and well-being of pregnant women and positively affect employees in the workplace.

Faubion says music therapy would likely work just as well for women in perimenopause — the transitional years leading up to menopause. And while the study was small, she believes the results should hold true for a larger group. “What I think is surprising is that we haven’t thought of this before, because it’s simple and easy to do,” she says.

However, if you choose to turn to music, don’t expect a few sessions to be a long-term solution. Instead, plan to do this therapy regularly. And while there’s no harm in trying this method, keep in mind that “music therapy may not be enough for some women to control menopausal symptoms,” Faubion says.

There are additional safe and effective strategies for dealing with symptoms. Faubion notes that hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy have both shown promise, likely because they reduce the anxiety associated with some menopausal symptoms.

As for interventions such as yoga or meditation, Faubion says, “There may be some anecdotal evidence that these mind/body therapies may be helpful, but the data is inconsistent.” Still, “There’s little risk in doing yoga or meditation to help reduce menopausal symptoms.”

And don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider if you continue to suffer. “If the symptoms are getting in the way of work or relationships or sleep or functioning during the day, that’s the time for people to seek extra help.”

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