Image Credit: Eric Nopanen / Unsplash. This image has been modified.

The Health Effects of Heavy Metal Music

As I discussed in my video Music as Medicine, the stress-reducing effects of music appear to extend throughout the clinical spectrum—even to the critically ill, intubated in an intensive care unit. Those listening to Mozart through headphones cut stress hormones like adrenaline in half compared to those with headphones playing nothing, which resulted in a lower mean arterial blood pressure. But are all types of music just as relaxing? That’s the subject of my Music for Anxiety: Mozart vs. Metal video.

Researchers compared the effects of Mozart, Pearl Jam, and Enya on normal, healthy subjects. After listening to Mozart for 15 minutes, people reported a significant reduction in tension. With new age music, they also felt a reduction in tension, as well as greater relaxation and less hostility, but they reported significant reductions in mental clarity and vigor. After listening to grunge rock, people said they felt more hostile, tired, sad, and tense, with reductions in caring, relaxation, clarity, and vigor. But these were subjective measures—asking people how they felt. What about objective measures?

After 30 minutes of classical music, the stress hormone cortisol significantly dropped in the research subjects. But if instead of listening to Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6, Opera 68, they listened to techno—Cyber Trip, Techno Shock, or Techno Magnetiko—their stress hormone levels went up. Endorphin levels also went up, which may make you think, “Oh that’s nice,” until you realize that endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers—they go up after a variety of aversive stimuli, like getting burned or prodded.

These results may just be a function of the music’s tempo. The research shows that people get the same bump in breathing and blood pressure from listening to fast classical music like Vivaldi’s Presto, which was found to be as stimulating, or even more so, than the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

What about heavy metal music? Researchers randomly assigned participants to self-selected music, classical, heavy metal, or silence. “Listening to self-selected and classical music produced increased feelings of relaxation as well as sitting in silence, but not for the heavy metal condition.” Compared to relaxing and pleasant Renaissance music, exposure to arousing and “unpleasant” heavy metal causes a heightened amylase response in men. Amylase is an enzyme in our saliva that digests starch. When we go into fight or flight mode, we start immediately churning out the enzyme to provide sugars for quick energy. So, you get a spike in amylase when you go skydiving, if you’re dunked into cold water, or… if you make a guy listen to heavy metal for ten minutes. With all that extra enzyme, if he’s eating bread while banging his head, he can end up digesting it better!

Metal is more likely to cause the medical community indigestion, though. Although the American Medical Association’s Group on Science and Technology admits there’s “no evidence that this music has any deleterious effect on the behavior of adolescents,” that doesn’t stop them from suggesting there’s anecdotal evidence that those who identify with such bands as “Slayer” and “Metallica” may be at risk for drug abuse or even “participation in satanic activities.” In response, one doctor wrote to the medical journal to reply: “for every teenager who commits suicide or some crime under the influence of heavy metal music, there are dozens of white-collar criminals engaged in such activities as insider trading, savings and loan fraud, [and] government corruption….”

Maybe we should instead be blaming Bach or Barry Manilow.


What about smells instead of sounds? See Orange Aromatherapy for Anxiety, Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Wake Up and Smell the Saffron.

Don’t forget about dietary interventions for pain and emotions. Check out:

You can also learn about another dimension of mental health in my video Plant-Based Diets for Improved Mood and Productivity.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


47 responses to “The Health Effects of Heavy Metal Music

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  1. I have an eclectic taste for music as long as it is harmonic. And also not a big fan of continuously fast tempo although occasionally I like such music.

    But I’ve noticed that recently I don’t resort to listening to music very often. If I’m hearing it that’s o.k., but I just prefer to have nothing interfering with my thoughts so I don’t seek it out.

    This was not always the case. When younger, I gravitated toward classical music when I wanted to unwind. Other genre when I wanted to feel the rhythm.

    What I’m getting at here is that back then I actually NEEDED music to get through the bad times. I don’t feel that need anymore so that suggests to me that my life is in good order.




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  2. What sort of music did the study participants normally listen to? Was music such as techno and metal “foreign” to the participants. I would be interested in a study done with participants who listen to various genres on a regular basis being given something polar opposite to listen to.




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    1. Hi Shelby,

      The study unfortunately didn’t indicate what type of music the participants normally listen to — “The order in which the types of music were heard was randomly assigned among the different groups.” They chose grunge rock, classical, new age, and designer music as the four types of music to test based on the hypothesis that they would all affect feelings.

      I hope this helps!




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    2. This was exactly my concern. I read the whole article and no mention was made of any metal enthusiasts participating. I actually found the whole article full of bias in between the lines.

      Another limitation of the study was the choice of music. They chose metal probably being screamed in a foreign language (it was german, don’t know how many of them spoke german) while using instrumental classical pieces. Personally, I find metal instrumentals calming so this may have been another confounding variable.

      I am a huge nutritionfacts fan and michael greger fan. But this post feels like it didn’t go through the same scrutiny that others have and may reflect a bias toward attention seeking. No harm to his reputation…but inconsistent with what typically makes this site great.




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    3. Interesting, Thanks Dr. G. Shelby, nice idea. And how about making/having the subjects who are listening to polar opposite to like music (To be defined!) for a few hours a week for 2 months. Would there be a new appreciation curve? Many people who having never been around opera and non Italian children HATE opera when they hear it and avoid it. Yet with a variety of social influences some of these fall in love with opera at a later date. I have tried to “expose myself to music I have hated upon first hearing. I have had success with a few genres, and none with others. Some non-dancable hard rock continues to make me feel it is harmful to my well being or at least to my generally happy mood! Some music I generally want to flee is fun IF I can dance to it.




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      1. P.S. I wonder if for music there is some truth to the Let’s go vegan adage: Taste a new food 5 times before you decide if you like it or not.” For music I think we have to include consideration of the social encouragements / discouragements to liking/disliking at a particular time and the strength of the social pressures to like what is cool for the moment so you can be part of the in crowd.




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      2. I agree, Gayle. There is a cultural component to music and a lot of what we like and don’t like has to do with exposure. I think the music has to open your heart, so to speak, in order for it to have beneficial effects and that it doesn’t matter what kind of music it is. I have a friend who loves heavy metal & finds it heart opening. I don’t get it, but that’s what she claims, and I believe it to be true for her.

        This video also reminded me of a concert that I went to at UNESCO in Paris. It was members of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra giving a special concert with replicas of ancient Chinese instruments. I was invited by a friend, who is Chinese. I went out of respect for my friend, but I expected to hate every minute of it. To my utter surprise, I loved it! To this day, it remains the best concert experience of my life. It was the most beautiful concert I had ever seen/heard.




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  3. My reply to the doctor: “for every teenager who commits suicide or some crime under the influence of heavy metal music, there is a doctor who is being heavily influenced by Big Pharma to write needless prescriptions for Adderall and other drugs to ‘medicate’ these teenagers (whose brains haven’t fully developed yet) when a whole food, plant-based diet could more effectively help ease depression, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, etc. There’s also at least one parent who doesn’t provide enough guidance, love, or care in said teenagers’ lives.”




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  4. Dear Dr Greger

    I have been aware of the negative effects of this type of music since the 1990’s when I discovered HeartMath an organization that has shown the effects of discordant music and negative emotions on heart rate variability and its relation to stress. I strongly suggest you check them out at heartmath.org.

    Kind Regards

    Nick Arrizza MD (retired)




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  5. Good question Shelby. And I agree that without tighter control of variables the study results are pretty useless. If someone is not familiar with more extreme music it stands to reason that it will have a different affect on them. Most likely an unsettling one. And surely that’s true of all external stimuli to a certain extent? Surely being half way up a mountain will have a different affect on a rock climbing enthusiast than it would a acrophobic?




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    1. If someone is not familiar with more extreme music it stands to reason that it will have a different affect on them. Most likely an unsettling one.

      But isn’t this the whole point of the experiment? That is, if something unknown is being introduced to a body and you measure the effect, then that gives you a good clean data point.

      If the body is used to it, then it has somewhat adapted and the effects are lessened, giving a biased data point.




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  6. How does the doctor’s statement that there are dozens of white-collar criminals who commit crimes relate to the teenager who, under the influence of heavy metal music, commits a crime or commits suicide relate to each other? So in other words, because there are white collar criminals without the heavy-metal music etc. to inspire them, we should not pay attention to or it negates the possible cause when it comes to teenagers committing a crime?




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    1. It takes a bad seed to be easily influenced, and a bad seed that is nurtured properly doesn’t grow up to be violent, so blaming movies, music, etc. for bad deeds makes no sense!




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    2. Also to your point, how do we know the white collar criminals aren’t fans of heavy metal. While often true, sometimes what we see on the outside belies what a person is like on the inside.




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  7. Those are the choices ? As a big fan of Dr, Greger I always enjoy the videos and blog but I’m tuning out on this one and going to go listen to some Wayne Shorter…




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  8. This is ridiculous. Listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers is fun for me! It makes me want to move around and dance! That is a great release of energy and positive energy. A mosh pit is a bunch of people voluntarily having fun banging in to each other to have fun. Therefore it is not aggressive. I was once at a Orthodox Jewish wedding where men and women dance separately. I was surprised that those men were dancing the same as a mosh pit at a heavy metal concert. Some classical and opera music is very high beat that it could be at the same club as the Metallica playing and it would fit right in. I love music that makes me want to get up and dance!




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    1. Hi Wendy. How about a lot of studies on those who love to/must dance, those who learn to dance, and and those who say they don’t like to dance until someone shows them how then love to dance? And how about those musicians who really prefer to make music than dance to it. So many things to discover! I have lured, nudged, encouraged, and taught about 30 men to learn how to dance and I get calls from them 15-30 years later thanking me for having dramatically enriched their lives. ( I coach singles and generally encourage boyfriends and friends to learn to dance). The key for most American men who did not learn to dance with partners in childhood is to get them over the fear of being criticized or ridiculed for being clumsy in public or even in a dance class. A nasty part of our culture is that most boys get the idea that they should be experts or at least skilled in all things. The joy of being a beginner and learning new things often escapes them.




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      1. Datis Kharrazian, a well-known neurologist, urges people to try to learn things they are bad at to decrease the likelihood of Alzheimer’s.




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  9. Listening to a specific music may not create a universal mechanical reaction. Why? Because it is a reaction, and reactions are mostly learned. In a culture where classical music is view as the best, then the expectation is to have the best results in studies as long as nobody looks at the starting assumptions.




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  10. Man you don’t listen to metal to relax! I mean you just NEVER listen to it for that reason. That is what Pink Floyd are for!
    You listen to metal while working out and you just don’t quit when you get tired. It is very weird but true for me and others. If you get tired and think of quitting half way crank up some Ministry or Rammstein and you get the energy going again and finish your workout.




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    1. Yeah, but I don’t think it would be sustainable as a genre as just work-out “music” (for lack of a better word.)

      So what Dr is saying is that the evidence points toward those who choose to listen to it as “entertainment” for their personality may be harming them physically for making that choice.




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  11. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to create “healing” songs. The lyrics of the song would have positive affirmations that you are getting stronger, healthy, and better. The melodies would be soothing similar to new age music. The rhythms would be simple. I think there are such CD’s out there. But, I wonder if anyone has done any research into the therapeutic value of such music because listening to such music my kick in the placebo effect, and we all know that the placebo effect is real.




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  12. Very interesting comments. (Don’t throw stuff at me but I dislike country music due to the seemingly fake created nasal tones–for some reason it irritates me). When these singers have a normal talk conversation, it is no longer present. (I know, I know– I enjoy opera even in a foreign language and find it calming). People are so interesting.




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    1. I went through a C & W phase and still revisit some of those old favorites from time to time… a George Jones, Patsy Cline, Ray Price, Johnny Bush, Bob Wills, Willie Nelson… those ones. But AFAIK there’s nothing in the newer generations that I particularly like. Probably because I haven’t heard much from them.

      And for the purpose of equating the voice to a musical instrument, there is no better example than John Gary IMO. Still, his versions of certain songs like Deep Purple and Unchained Melody are not my preferred recordings.

      So I kinda understand that someone could find something that to many of us don’t find musical, to be just that. Diversity is good.




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  13. Your are not right – Mr. Greger, sorry. Because, heavy metal is not heavy metal at all. there are big difference – in music and in the reaction of the listener. Some “heavy metal” ballads, like “still loving you” from KISS (USA) or all songs of Nightwish’s “End of an Era” bring me down of all this shit world events.
    Listen to Epica… I feel better then listen to some news of ARD oder ZDF, the fucking assholes of warmonger. Sorry for my rude words…
    What I want to say is – it’s always a point of view, where you are at the moment you hear the music. If I’m angry, some heavy metal will bring me down, because I can life out me emotions… If I’m in a relaxed state, I can enjoy Mozart or Vivaldi…. but at the moment, I like to hear heavy metal because of the stupid decisions of the governments of all countries on the world!




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  14. Although as an retired blues/rock musician with varied tastes and influences over the years, lately for me it’s been Chet Baker and Stan Getz that seem float my boat.




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  15. hello this is a subject that i think about, how music or sound frequency signals affects our health.
    my view is that synthetic music is definitely “unhealthy”.
    the wave forms that are produced by digital technology are not natural, with modern digital synthesizers, or just with modern mixing and mastering techniques, which are about pushing the music as loud as possible, reducing dynamics to create flattened wave forms,
    for anyone reading this that doesn’t know what i mean, if you imagine an oscilloscope with peaks and drops, thats similar to how any audio wave looks if you analyze it.
    modern pop music is about flattening that wave, bringing up the drops, to as loud as the peaks as possible, and reducing the peaks, it creates a waveform that can create a louder sounding file, which is what modern music is all about , getting louder than before, making a tune louder than the last one, while achieving the same peak level,
    our ears (and our bodies in general) are obviously not designed to processed these artificially created wave form signals, and i think listeners do suffer as an effect, while of course modern dance music or pop/rock etc is exciting and stimulating in some ways, as many synthetic products are.
    its hard to imagine that it wont increase fatigue, ear damage, depression and other problems that i don’t even understand.
    also, the types of chords that are used will affect us differently, “music” is frequency pitch changes.
    as we know, our bodies send messages around our bodies using electrical signals.
    i think that certain combinations of frequencies would have increasingly negative effects on a persons health through disrupting our own systems.




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    1. EDM (most of it) makes me happy, the high vibrations are cleansing, and my blood pressure is always lower after a night of raving, it’s basically a 5-6 hour aerobic workout, but each to his own.




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      1. you might think it makes you happy, in the short term it possibly does have a positive effect, as i stated in my post. there is no doubt that electronic dance music, or other forms of music that are processed elecetcally can be “stimulating”. thats not the issue im explaining.




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  16. Hey!

    I follow Dr. Greger and I read at least once at week “Nutrition Facts” blog, where I’ve found out and learned about many things, but I must be honest here, what a piece of crap of post this one is!

    I listen to a lot of musical genres, from clasical music to heavy metal like Slayer and Metallica, which by the way are not specificly Heavy Metal genre. I couldn’t help to explode in laughter, I’ve been in big risk for at least 22 years Are you serious?!?




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    1. I’m with you Allen, as I think many people are. Music is the best drug out there without any side effects, it along with dancing and exercise is the ultimate magic pill, don’t listen to haters of not “natural” music, who’s anybody to say what’s natural for someone else!! Other than affecting your hearing by not wearing ear plugs when needed, there is nothing harmful about any kind of music!




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  17. Small editorial recommendation.

    “But if instead of listening to Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6, Opera 68, they listened to techno”

    It should be Opus 68, not Opera 68




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  18. I was at a wedding where afterwards they started playing extremely loud music. It felt like it was permeating and affecting my heart (which is, btw, in excellent shape). It was so painful I had to leave.




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