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Q
Ending Anxiety With Brainwave Music Therapy?

I would like to stop taking my anti-anxiety medication in order to avoid potential side effects. Have you heard of brainwave music and do you think it is an effective way to treat anxiety and depression for the cost (about $500)? 

A
Answer (Published 12/22/2008)

Brainwave music therapy attempts to address anxiety, depression, insomnia and migraines via music created from patients' brain waves. The brain waves are recorded via electroencephalogram (EEG) equipment and then converted into musical sounds and transferred to a CD. Reportedly, the result sounds like classical piano music. You get two files, one meant to help you relax and the other intended to promote alertness. It's unclear how a musical interpretation (CD) of an electrical interpretation (EEG) of brainwaves would be helpful, and I'm aware of only a few published studies on the effects of brainwave music. I think it makes more sense to access the autonomic nervous system through breath work, and I recommend "Breathing: the Master Key to Self-Healing." It sells for only a fraction of the cost of brainwave music treatment and is a very effective way to deal with anxiety and depression.

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If you plan to stop taking your anti-anxiety medication, don't do so suddenly. Ask your physician for a dosing schedule so that you can taper off the drugs with no ill-effects.In addition to breathing exercises, other measures I find useful for dealing with anxiety include the following:

  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, mackerel and other wild, cold-water fish as well as walnuts and freshly ground flaxseeds (sprinkle a tablespoon on cereal and/or salads). You should also consider taking fish-oil supplements, 2-3 grams a day, in two divided doses with meals.
  • Aerobic exercise: A brisk 30-minute walk at least five times a week can help combat anxiety.
  • Avoid caffeine, which is a stimulant that can trigger or heighten anxiety.
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): You can find this herb in tablet or tincture form. While it is relatively safe and no significant side effects are known, try not to use it on a regular basis, or you may become psychologically dependent upon it. People with impaired kidney or liver functions should not take valerian except under a physician's supervision. It should not be used with kava. Take one capsule every 4-6 hours as needed and two at bedtime to promote sleep.
  • Kava (Piper methysticum): This herb can reduce symptoms of anxiety or stress. However, the FDA has warned that it can cause liver damage, an extremely low risk. To be safe, don't take it if you have liver problems or a history of liver disease (such as hepatitis). If you want to try kava, Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., an authority on botanical medicine and an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements and women's health, recommends taking 1-2, 460 mg capsules of a good quality brand (she recommends Eclectic Institute) as needed, 2-3 times per day.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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