Verdi to the rescue of vagal afibbers?

MILAN, ITALY. Mayer waves are oscillations of arterial pressure occurring spontaneously at a frequency (about 0.1 Hz or 6 cycles/minute) lower than that of normal respiration observed in humans. It is possible to generate Mayer waves by certain breathing techniques and some afibbers have found doing so useful in controlling their afib. Now a group of researchers from the Universities of Milan, Oxford and Pavia reports that Mayer waves can also be generated and entrained in the autonomic nervous system by listening to certain types of music.

Their study involved 24 young, healthy subjects (25 years of age) 12 of whom were musicians and 12 who were non-musician controls. The study participants were exposed to various pieces of music – adagio from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot, a Bach cantata, “Va pensiero” from Nabucco, and “Libiam nei lieti calici” from La Traviata. During exposure to the music, blood pressure, respiration, heart rate and mid-cerebral artery flow velocity were measured.

The researchers found that almost every music crescendo induced increases in blood pressure and heart rate (adrenergic responses). These correlations were greatest during Puccini’s “Nessun dorma”. Listening to the Bach cantata, on the other hand, induced a profound feeling of relaxation. The researchers conclude that specific music phrases (frequently at a rhythm of 6 cycles/minute in famous arias by Verdi) can synchronize inherent cardiovascular rhythm, thus modulating cardiovascular control. They point out that several other techniques such as yoga, prayers, and poetry recitation have the capacity for generating Mayer waves as well.

Bernardi, L, et al. Dynamic interactions between musical, cardiovascular, and cerebral rhythms in humans. Circulation, Vol. 119, June 30, 2009, pp. 3171-80

Editor’s comment: Inasmuch as certain types of music such as the crescendos found in arias by Verdi can increase heart rate and sympathetic response, is it possible that listening to such music at bedtime may be beneficial to vagal afibbers, while adrenergic afibbers may find listening to a Bach cantata while under stress to be helpful?