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June 10, 2019

Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

Is there anything better than a roaring belly laugh? And, can you laugh your way to better health? We have heard laughter described as medicine but is laughter the best medicine, really?

Is laughter the best medicine?

It seems almost too simple. Laugh more and be healthier. But, maybe laughing isn’t all that simple. Think about it. How many times a day do you really belt out a loud laugh so loud that nearly everyone can hear you?

Most of us are tense and stressed these days, and in the politically correct world we now live in, sometimes we suppress our chuckles or laughs so as not to seem “insensitive”. We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings now, do we?

Laughter probably should not be suppressed. It should be encouraged. An easy to start to laugh more is not to take ourselves and our actions too seriously. Many of us can do a better job poking fun at ourselves and some of the stupid things we do.

Laughter as Medicine

The possible health benefits of laughter have been discussed for centuries. Now the research is in the area is not abundant and does not always show a strong correlation between laughter and health, but all virtually studies conducted show positive health benefits – and without side effects. I suppose some may have choked when laughing but there really isn’t much downside to laughing – well okay maybe peeing your pants.

Laughter has been studied in the fields of cancer, geriatric medicine, critical care, psychiatry, home care, palliative care, hospice care, rheumatology and rehabilitation, and general patient care. As many of 50% of cancer patients engaged in humor or laughter therapy in one study.

In its simplest form laughter is a form of exercise and so is sex. And we know that exercise and sex have a multitude of health benefits. Laughter is the physical expression of joy and humor. Deepak Chopra considers laughter the healthiest response to life. And, Sigmund Freud felt humor may be the highest of the defense processes of the psyche.

Dr. Michael Miller says the laughter in a small group of 20 participants did as much good for cardiovascular system as did aerobic exercise. He recommends that you laugh on regular basis. His prescription: laugh for 15 minutes a day and exercise 30 minutes three times a week.

Physiologic Changes Caused by Laughter

So what physiologic changes occur in the body when we laugh? Laughter has positive effects on the cardiovascular system, the immune system, metabolic/endocrine system, the neurologic system, our emotional health, and helps with pain management.

Cardiovascular

When we first laugh there is an increase in heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen consumption (just like exercise). This is then followed by a period of muscle relaxation with a decrease in heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure (similar to exercise).

Laughter seems to act on the endothelium or the inner one-cell thick lining of the blood vessels. This important lining regulates blood flow. Laughter causes blood vessels to relax and expand allowing for more blood flow and oxygen delivery to our organs including brain. Laughter might exert its effects on the endothelium by boosting levels of nitric oxide (exercise and erectile dysfunction drugs and green leafy vegetables do the same).

Immune System

Laughter improves natural killer cells improving our resistance against cancer and infections. This one reasons laughter therapy has been used in cancer patients.

In addition, laughter releases neuropeptides that illness and stress.

Metabolic/Endocrine

Laughter lower blood sugar and improves glucose sensitivity in both non diabetic and diabetic patients.

Neurologic System

Laughter stimulates increased neural connectivity in the brain making the brain more plastic. Humor releases BNDF for brain-derived neurotropic factor which stimulates growth of new nerve cells or neurons.

Happier people who presumed to laugh more are less likely to tau tangles and amyloid plaques of the brain seen in Alzheimer’s disease.

Laughter and Emotional Health

Humor reduces stress and anxiety and facilitates relaxation both emotional and muscular. Regular laughter is associated with more positive emotions and less depression. Improved quality of sleep has been reported with laughter in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Other Benefits of Laughter

Laughter can lead to higher threshold of pain and seems to stimulate the body to produce its own natural pain killers. Laughter is also associated with increased personal satisfaction.

How to Laugh More

Laughter is contagious so if you want to laugh more hang around people who laugh. My one son has a boisterous laugh that comes from down deep in his soul. Last night he and my wife were laughing uncontrollably for several minutes upstairs. I was downstairs working on this article and could hear their laughter. Though I did not know what they were laughing about, I started to laugh just listening to them.

Poke fun at yourself and try to find humor in your situations as you go through the day. Surround your workstation with items that make you laugh or at least bring a smile to your face. These could be photos, comic strips, greeting cards.

Regularly watch a funny movie or sitcom. Seinfeld was and is my favorite. As mentioned before associate with people who laugh and make you laugh. Buy a joke book. Write your own jokes.

Is laughter the best medicine? Considering the wide range of positive effects, low side effect profile, and the fact that it is free, laughter can make a legitimate claim at being the best medicine.

So give it a try. Laugh and live long!

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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