Drumming for the Immune System

Robert Lawrence Friedman

Drummers know that it often feels good to drum, but acclaimed neurologist Dr. Barry Bittman, has proved unequivocally, in the first study of its kind, that a drumming activity he calls “composite drumming” will actually boost the body’s immune system.

In a recent interview in which he discussed his thoughts about his breakthrough study, Dr. Bittman stated, “Our intention was to determine whether a group recreational music-making activity in the form of group drumming could reverse the effects of stress.” His target was to study the effects of group drumming on cells that boost the body’s immune system. “The cells we looked at are called the natural killer cells or NK cells. These are basically the surveillance cells in the body that seek out and destroy cancer cells or virally infected cells.”

Choosing to work with non-drummers, Dr. Bittman tried various combinations of group drumming, ranging from subjects listening to drumming music and not playing, to group drumming facilitated by an instructor speaking between 20 to 50% of the time, to a drumming group facilitated by a shaman. A control group sat and relaxed, reading magazines.

The level of stress hormones and natural killer cells of the subjects were measured before and after each experiment. To Bittman and his colleagues’ increasing frustration, the results were always similar—that is, the stress hormones dropped, but the NK cell activity (representing the immune system) did not, except in one group who drummed 80% of the time, where the NK count actually went down, a result Bittman believes was due to the subjects overdoing the drumming.

Still convinced that drumming has the ability to boost the immune system, Dr. Bittman and his colleagues put together a mix of group drumming activities, including rhythm games and guided imagery which they termed “composite drumming.” Dr. Bittman found that upon completing the “composite drumming” exercises, the subjects’ stress hormone levels dropped and their Natural Killer cell activity increased, supporting his belief in the drum’s capacity to boost the immune system. Dr. Bittman replicated this experiment with three different groups of subjects.

Therefore, the next time you feel a cold coming on, grab the Vitamin C and a drum, too!