Laugh if you want to stay healthy

Date: 2010-05-03

Norman Cousins first discussed this idea in the 1970's when he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and laughed himself into remission. His personal research was considered a landmark finding at the time and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

New research reported by The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biologysubstantiates what Cousins found as the benefits of laughter.

Dr. Lee S. Berk, a researcher and preventive care specialist at Loma Linda University's Schools of RAllied Health (SAHP) and Medicine and director of the molecular research lab at SAHP, and Dr. Stanley Tan have used Cousin's premise of laughter being good medicine in order to study how it impacts the functions of various body systems.

The present study used 14 healthy volunteers over a three-week period to determine the effect of laughter and distress on body systems. Subjects were shown random videos that were either upsetting or humor. Volunteers had to wait a week after watching the first video so that its effect could be eliminated before being shown the next video.

At various junctures during the research, subjects had blood pressure measured and blood samples taken. Researchers found laughter, but not distress, had statistically relevant impacts on body systems. Those who watched humorous videos had responses similar to moderate physical exercise with increased appetite for food.

What researchers found is that laughter positively affects the immune system, helping to ominize hormones in the endocrine system that lead to reducing stress. Laughter also helps the immune system by increasing production of certain antibodies and protective cells.

The researchers say "Laughercise" is as useful as moderate physical exercise in enhancing mood and enhancing immune activity. It also helps to lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure while raising good cholesterol.

Berk explains the results this way, "We are finally starting to realize that our everyday behaviors and emotions are modulating our bodies in many ways.

Berk explains this research does not conclude humor increases appetite. He says, “The ultimate reality of this research is that laughter causes a wide variety of modulation and that the body’s response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise. The value of the research is that it may provide for those who are health care providers with new insights and understandings, and thus further potential options for patients who cannot use physical activity to normalize or enhance their appetite.”

Researchers declare this new finding will help in the treatment of those elderly patients who become depressed and lose appetite. They believe Laughercise will help increase appetite and is a useful alternative to strenuous exercise.

The value of this research, according to those involved in reporting the results, is how laughter may be used to help people in depression regain lost appetite and to help others with mental and physical problems establish or regain good health.

Berk says in response to the results, “I am more amazed by the interrelatedness of laughter and body responses with the more evidence and knowledge we collect. It’s fascinating that positive emotions resulting from behaviors such as music playing or singing, and now mirthful laughter, translate into so many types of [biological] mechanism optimizations. As the old biblical wisdom states, it may indeed be true that laughter is a good medicine.”

The research will be presented at the Experimental Biology 2010 conference being held April 24 - 28, 2010 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

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