OGDEN -- For our ancestors, detecting the low growl of a lion, nearly undetectable because of rushing water, whistling winds and bird calls, could mean the difference between life and death.
Adrenaline would rush, fueling a fight or flight response, and our ancestors would flee.
In modern times, our daily soundtrack may start with a blaring alarm clock, whirring blenders and arguing children, then the sounds of car horns, radio DJs, car engines and sirens.
The adrenaline and stress are still there in excessive doses and they can make us sick, said Alex Doman, an organizer of the inaugural Music and Medicine Conference, subtitled "Healing at the Speed of Sound."
The two-day conference, for music therapists, physicians, educators and musicians, began Thursday at Weber State University.
"Noise hurts, and it causes disorganization in the brain," said Doman, speaking not of soothing music or nature sounds, but of abrasive mechanical noises that are part of urban life. "Noise is second only to air pollution in the damage it causes to our environmental health. The noise in our life is as thick as smog. If you could see noise pollution, you wouldn't stand for it."
Doman is founder of Ogden's Advanced Brain Technologies, a business that provides products designed to improve brain function. He spoke Thursday about therapeutic listening programs that have been used to help heal people in comas or with post traumatic stress disorder; to lessen the confusion and stress of people with auditory processing problems; to hone the skills of professional musicians and voice coaches; and to increase the effectiveness of corporate executives and athletes.
"At 18 to 24 weeks, a fetus hears," Doman said. "The ears are the first organs to develop fully. That gives us some idea of their importance."
Doman said abrasive, loud noise has been linked to cardiac problems, high blood pressure and increased levels of stress hormones in the blood, which can cause the body to produce excess fat. Noise also makes sleep difficult.
"Without sufficient undisturbed sleep, we can't store the memories of the previous day," Doman said. "We can't learn from our experiences."
Our brain processes sound whether we are awake or asleep, he said.
"We have no earlids to close," Doman said. "We have eyelids, but no earlids."
Doman recommends people take a break from noise and listen to soothing or invigorating music. Ear buds turned too loud are harmful to hearing, so Doman recommends headsets that cup the ear and music played at reasonable volumes.
Listening to music for more than an hour leaves us desensitized to the sound, Doman said. Listening to music can be alternated with listening to outdoor nature sounds, or with silence. All will have a calming, balancing effect on mind, body and soul, he said.
Speaker Don Campbell, author of "The Mozart Effect," a 1997 book about music's healing ability, told listeners to be aware of sound in their environment, and to protect themselves if the noise is too loud by using earplugs and noise-buffering earphones. He uses earplugs at the movies and buffering earphones on airplanes. He described using both at a major conference where he was seated in the front, feet from giant amplifiers.
"I could still hear every word," Campbell said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
Campbell also suggested alternating music with silence and natural sounds to balance out the cacophony of everyday life. Campbell led the crowd in humming, directing music and making rhythms by slapping together paper plates.
"You can generate a lot of energy from singing or humming," Campbell said. "If I were a school-teacher, I would have the kids hum a song at 2 o'clock every day, just to make it through the end of the day."
Campbell and Doman co-authored a book, "Healing at the Speed of Sound," to be released in September by Hudson Street Press.