Fourth-year student investigates relationship between nutrition and vocal health

Sarah Perlin, a fourth-year music and nutrition major, recently began brainstorming ideas for her capstone project. To accommodate her broad academic interests, she decided on exploring the relationship between nutrition, or wellness, and vocal health. Currently, Perlin is completing her literary research on nutrition and vocal health and intends to conduct surveys within the choral organizations on campus.

Perlin’s initial research began with an investigation into “how vocal mechanisms work” in the context of muscular fibrillation of the vocal chords, but establishing her specific topic has been difficult because there is little literature available that provides transparent connections between nutrition and vocal health.

“Specifically, [there is little written]  regarding food or nutrients that affect the voice,” Perlin said. “I think it’s an important topic because no one has been writing about it; there [remains] a need to connect [these topics].”

More often, she finds literature that addresses conditions that “vocalists suffer from, such as acid reflux.” As a result, she is considering evaluating the connection between the increased likelihood of acid reflux in singers and which foods similarly contribute to inducing acid reflux.

As a music major and a chorus member, Perlin has also been exposed to many of the old wives’ tales that surround meal choices and vocal performance, particularly concerning the ingestion of dairy. Vocalists are frequently advised to refrain from consuming any dairy product prior to singing.

“[However], I read this article the other day that said there’s no direct link between it actually harming your performance. People hypothesize that it increases mucus production because of the fats in milk一they kind of coagulate with mucus [resulting in mucus that feels as if it has a greater viscosity]” Perlin said. “So I want to bridge the gap [with published data] and determine [a] more direct causation than just word of mouth.”

Perlin thinks that her research will be primarily applicable to vocalists, but she believes that it’s valuable to learn about vocal health, even for those who don’t sing, because “we all use our voices” in day-to-day activities. She would consider conducting more in-depth research about the effects of dairy on vocal performance as well.

“I get excited reading things about the surveys and studies that have been done.” Perlin said. “Sometimes it’s really shocking. I read this survey about [University of Wisconsin-Madison] students in college which was about vocal usage and vocal complaints that come out of these students. This survey found that students in college have higher risks of damaging their voice[s] (damaging [in this case] meaning having adverse effects like hoarseness or difficulty speaking or inability to speak in the morning). So, it’s things like that, where it’s not only interesting, but I can also apply it to my own life一that’s been the coolest part… I’m really excited about my capstone, actually. I mean, it’s a lot of work, but I’m excited to see what will be discovered.”