Using laughter as medicine is not a new concept. As early as the 14th Century, French surgeon Henri de Mondeville used humor therapy to aid recovery from surgery. He wrote: "Let the surgeon take care to regulate the whole regimen of the patient's life for joy and happiness, allowing his relatives and special friends to cheer him and by having someone tell him jokes." In the 1930s U.S. hospitals began to bring in clowns to cheer children hospitalized with polio. In 1972, the Gesundheit Institute (of Patch Adams fame) was founded to bring "fun, friendship, and the joy of service back into health care."
Norman Cousins calls laughter "internal jogging." Cousins had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, an experience that had led him to question Western medicine. Cousins found the treatments suggested by his doctors to be totally lacking, so he checked himself out of the hospital and checked into a hotel. From here on, he literally laughed himself back to health. He immersed himself in only funny movies and television shows. He enjoyed every one of the Charlie Chaplin movies, and watched "Candid Camera" episodes until his sides hurt, laughing. His illness disappeared. From this experience, he wrote an enlightening book, "Anatomy of an Illness."
Solid scientific research demonstrates that laughter offers the following benefits:
Lowering blood pressure
Strengthening cardiovascular functions
Reducing stress hormones
Increasing muscle flexion
Oxygenating the body by boosting
the respiratory system
Boosting immune function by raising levels of
infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins
called Gammainterferon and B-cells, which
produce disease-destroying antibodies.
Triggering the release of endorphins,
the body's natural painkillers
Producing a general sense of well-being.
Even anticipating laughter can enhance our biochemistry. In a novel experiment conducted at Loma Linda University, researchers studied a group of 16 healthy male volunteers. The participants were assigned to two groups. Blood was drawn from both groups four times during the event and three times afterward. The experiment group was told that they would be watching a humorous video. The control group was not. The findings were astounding. The experiment group showed not only a decrease in stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, and dopac,) but also an increase in beta-endorphins (chemicals that alleviate depression) and human growth hormone (which boosts immunity.)
Dr. Lee Berk, the team's lead researcher, sums up the study: "Our findings lead us to believe that by seeking out positive experiences that make us laugh we can do a lot with our physiology to stay well."
In an earlier study conducted by Dr. Berk and his team, the experimental group watched a humorous video. Blood samples were measured on both the experimental group (that watched the humorous video) and a control group (that did not watch the video.) The results were similar to the above experiment showing positive biochemical changes by those who watched the funny video. In addition, this study also demonstrated the positive physiological changes that occur after a session of laughter. Dr. Berk states: "The physiological effects of a single one-hour session viewing a humorous video appear to last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours in different individuals."
American Psychological Society (2008, April 10). Anticipating a Laugh Reduces Our Stress Hormones.
Berk LS, Felten DL, Tan SA, Bittman BB, Westengard J. Modulation of Neuroimmune Parameters During the Eustress of Humor-Associated Mirthful Laughter. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, March 2001.
Laughter Lowers Blood Pressure
According to a new study presented at the American Society of Hypertension 2008 Annual Meeting, laughter in the context of laughter yoga can significantly lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol, or stress hormone, levels. The investigators of the study evaluated 200 people, both men and women, working in the information technology industry in India. These individuals participated in seven 20-30 minute laughter yoga sessions, where they alternated 45 seconds to one minute of laughter with deep breathing and stretching exercises.
After three weeks, the investigators found that laughter yoga participants experienced significant reductions in their baseline blood pressures, as well as their cortisol levels. Participants also filled out questionnaires which showed that their perceived levels of stress were also lower.
Adapted from Heartwire -- a professional news service of WebMD Chaya MS, Kataria M, Nagendra R, et al. The effects of hearty extended unconditional (HEU) laughter using laughter yoga techniques on physiological, psychological, and immunological parameters in the workplace: a randomized control trial. American Society of Hypertension 2008 Annual Meeting; May 14, 2008; New Orleans, LA.
Laughter Increases Good Cholesterol
Hearty laughter could help diabetics improve their cholesterol levels and possibly lower their risk of heart attack, according to a recent study by Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University, California.
Berk and his colleague, Dr. Stanley Tan, an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Oak Crest Health Research Institute in Loma Linda, assigned 20 adults with type 2 diabetes, average age 50, to a control group or the laughter group. All had high blood pressure and cholesterol. After 12 months the researchers evaluated both groups by measuring cholesterol levels and levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation thought to be associated with heart disease.
The laughter group had an increase in "good" HDL cholesterol of 26 percent, compared to just a 3 percent increase in the good cholesterol of the control group.
What's the secret? Put very simply, Berk said, "you are decreasing the bad chemicals in the body with laughter and increasing the good chemicals, which help you stay well, may prevent disease and may well have [additional] value relative to the therapies you are taking."
Smiling Makes You Happier
Moving your facial muscles to express happiness or sadness increases the intensity of those emotions.
Psychologists at Barnard College played subjects emotionally charged videos before and after the volunteers were injected with either Botox or Restylane. Restylane is a substance that fills out wrinkles; unlike Botox, however, it doesn't limit the movement of muscles in the affected area.
The Botox recipients reported feeling much less of an emotional connection -- happy or sad -- to the videos they were shown after they received an injection.
Among those who received Restylane, there was no discrepancy in before-and-after reactions. According to the researchers, this confirms a century-old hypothesis that facial expression influences one's emotional experiences.
It also suggests that if the government wanted to put together an elite squad of heartless assassins, they should look no further than the smooth-skinned 40-plus actresses of Hollywood.
June 24th, 2010 By Jeremy Taylor