Singing in a choir appears to boost immune system activity in people with cancer, while also reducing their stress levels and improving their mood, a new study has found.
According to UK researchers, this improvement in overall wellbeing could put cancer patients ‘in the best position to receive treatment'.
They monitored 193 people who belonged to five different choirs and found that singing for even just one hour was linked with a major reduction in stress hormones. It was also linked with an increase in cytokines, which are proteins of the immune system which can aid the body's ability to fight serious illness.
"These are really exciting findings. We have been building a body of evidence over the past six years to show that singing in a choir can have a range of social, emotional and psychological benefits, and now we can see it has biological effects too.
"We've long heard anecdotal evidence that singing in a choir makes people feel good, but this is the first time it's been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing. It's really exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future," commented the study's co-author, Dr Ian Lewis, of cancer support organisation, Tenovus Cancer Care.
As part of the study, participants provided saliva samples an hour before singing and then again straight afterwards. The saliva was tested to assess any changes in the body's chemicals, including hormones and immune proteins.
The study found that those who experienced the greatest mood improvement after singing were those with the highest levels of depression and lowest levels of mental wellbeing.
"Many people affected by cancer can experience psychological difficulties such as stress, anxiety and depression. Research has demonstrated that these can suppress immune activity, at a time when patients need as much support as they can get from their immune system.
"This research is exciting as it suggests that an activity as simple as singing could reduce some of this stress-induced suppression, helping to improve wellbeing and quality of life among patients and put them in the best position to receive treatment," said the study's co-author, Dr Daisy Fancourt, of the Centre for Performance Science.
Details of these findings are published in ecancermedicalscience, a journal of the European Institute of Oncology.