Can sound waves lower blood pressure, ease migraines?
As per new research, a new type of therapy that uses sound waves to balance people's brain activity might help lower blood pressure and reduce symptoms of migraines. This therapy is known as HIRREM, which stands for high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electro-encephalic mirroring.
For treatment, patients place sensors which measure the brain's electrical activity, or brainwaves on their scalp. The sensors detect whether there are imbalances in the brain's activity between left and right sides of the brain. The brain's activity is converted into audible tones which are reflected back to the brain through earbuds in a matter of milliseconds.
Dr. Charles Tegeler, a professor of neurology with Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., said "Your brain gets to listen to the song that it's playing. It gets to look at itself in an acoustic mirror." He added, "Somehow that rapid update gives the brain a chance to auto-calibrate, self-optimize, relax and reset."
Researchers conducted a study using HIRREM on 10 men and women with high blood pressure. They underwent about 18 HIRREM sessions over 10 days, after which their average systolic blood pressure was reduced from 152 to 136 mm Hg, and their average diastolic pressure was reduced from 97 to 81 mm Hg. Dr. Raymond Townsend, a professor and director of the hypertension program at Penn Medicine, said "This is not a drug, and it's not technically anything invasive. If you can produce a sustained reduction in blood pressure by something like this, especially of this magnitude, you've got my interest. “In another study, 52 adults with migraines underwent about 16 HIRREM sessions over 9 days. At the study end, headache was improved, but more research is needed to confirm the results.
Dawn Buse, director of behavioral medicine at Montefiore Headache Center in New York City said, "It is exciting to see novel work being done which may ultimately yield new effective treatment options to improve the lives of those living with migraine." Townsend said, "The brain on the right side begins to hear in the right ear what it's doing, and the brain on the left side is hearing via the left ear what it's doing. The autonomic nervous system plays a role in maintaining blood pressure, but doctors have been at a loss how to use it to treat high blood pressure."
It has two branches- sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system governs the "fight or flight" response, while the parasympathetic system governs the "stand or freeze" or "rest and digest" response. In blood pressure patients treated with HIRREM, "you see a little drop in the sympathetic and an increase in the parasympathetic, and that makes sense for seeing the changes in blood pressure that are reported here," Townsend said.
Buse said similar biofeedback techniques also are used in migraine management, to help improve the flexibility and resiliency of the autonomic nervous system. The sessions take a "not inconsequential amount of time," about 90 minutes for each, Townsend noted. However, the patient is not consciously taking part in the process, and can do other things while listening to the tones - read a book, solve puzzles or even take a nap, Tegeler said. "This is different than many other therapies out there because there is no conscious cognitive activity required," Tegeler said. "There is no learner in the loop." This research was funded by a grant from the Susanne Marcus Collins Foundation Inc.