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Scientific Research On Laughter And Humor

Most of the scientific research that took place in the last 20 to 30 years was based on humor. Researchers induced laughter by using humorous intervention. This required the cognitive ability of the mind to produce laughter that would eventually change the physiology. Since Laughter Yoga is a non humor based technique, it is safe and easy to practice and ever since it was introduced, it has spread like wildfire around the world primarily because people have been getting enormous health benefits from Laughter Yoga exercises. It does not matter how we induce laughter, whether through the mind or the body – the physiological changes are the same as natural laughter. Moreover, in Laughter Yoga clubs, though we use simulated laughter to begin with, it becomes real and spontaneous after a while.

This chapter analyses the scientific principles of the medical benefits of laughter and humor on the basis of research work done by scientists all over the world, and some of the clinical data gathered from Laughter Clubs in India and other countries, which practice Laughter Yoga.

Laughter As A Stress buster

According to Hans Selye laughter has a built-in balancing mechanism that encourages the two-step action of stimulation and relaxation, due to the release of the chemicals adrenaline and noradrenaline. This produces a feeling of wellbeing by relieving the minor stresses and strains of daily life. Laughter also reduces anxiety, tension and depression, thereby, mitigating several serious diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, in which anxiety and tension are predisposing factors. Kay Herth (American Journal of Nursing 1984) has documented reduction of hypertension after laughter.

Laughter As An Analgesic

Laughter releases neuropeptides like Endorphins and Enkephalins which are natural opiates and pain suppressing agents. The ability of laughter to release muscle tension and soothe the sympathetic nervous system also helps to control pain, as does increased circulation. Thus, laughter has a multi-pronged approach for the relief of pain in conditions such as arthritis, spondylitis, etc.

This is aptly demonstrated by the Norman Cousins in his article (New England Journal of Medicine, Dec. 1976), where he documents that 10 minutes of laughter had an analgesic effect for 2 hours, in his personal problem of severe ankylosing spondylitis. Cogan et al (Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1987) demonstrated by clinical experiments that discomfort thresholds were higher in subjects after bouts of laughter.

Laughter And Immunity

Lee S. Berk (Clinical Research 1989) found that laughter may attenuate some stress-related hormones and modify Natural Killer Cell activity, resulting in immunomodulation. Labott also supports Berk’s findings (Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1990) and concludes that laughter results in improved immunity. In a study at Canada’s University of Waterloo (Well Being Journal), it was well documented that laughter increases the levels of immunoglobulin IgA and IgG. Norman Cousins (Prevention March 1988) also states that laughter serves as a blocking agent against disease.

Thus, laughter, by improving body immunity, can mitigate a host of chronic diseases such as bronchitis, common cold, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, etc. Improving immunity may also be a supplementary measure in the control of AIDS.

Cancer And Laughter

In Berk and Tan’s (1996) experiment concerning the laughter-immunity connection, they used a few healthy fasting males who volunteered for the experiment, and had them view a funny video film for an hour. They took blood samples of their interferon-gamma (IFN) before, during and after watching the film. They obtained significant results that showed increased activity in IFN, after watching the funny video, which lasted till the following day. IFN activates the CT-Cells, B-Cells immunoglobulins and Natural Killer (NK) Cells.

This could be very important research for cancer, since laughter also fights against tumor cells. Laughter’s ability to be a pain reliever, and its ability to fight tumor cells, has added an exciting new area in cancer research. In Laughter Clubs, there are many cancer patients who are leading much healthier lives due to a positive attitude towards life. This makes us believe that laughter can be used as a preventive measure against cancer.

Laughter As An Aerobic Exercise

Dr. W. Fry states that laughter is a good aerobic exercise. He says that 100 laughs a day are equal to 10 minutes of rowing or jogging. Lloyd (Journal of General Psychology, 1938) showed that laughter is a combination of deep inhalation and full exhalation, inspiring excellent ventilation, wonderful rest and profound release. Thus, laughter increases the lungs’ vital capacity and oxygenation. We measured the lung’s vital capacity (peak flow rate) of our members, using a Spirometer. The peak flow rate was lower than normal in 13%, (<300l/m.), it was normal in 67% (300-500 l/m.) and high in 20% (>500l/m.). This would benefit patients with pulmonary diseases such as bronchitis, bronchial asthma, bronchiectasis.

Effect Of Laughter On Cardiovascular System

Dr. Michael Miller from University Of Maryland School Of Medicine in Baltimore found that laughter appears to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels, the endothelium, to dilate or expand, in order to increase blood flow. Emotionally-wrenching movies that produced mental stress, on the other hand, caused vasoconstriction – tightening of the blood vessels, which reduces blood flow.

The researchers say the findings suggest that laughter may do the cardiovascular system some good while mental stress will slow down blood flow. “Given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Michael Miller, Director of Preventive Cardiology at the University Of Maryland Medical Center. “At the very least, laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium,” he says. The beneficial changes that laughter brought were similar to the benefit seen with aerobic activity, says Dr. Miller. “We don’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis. “Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system.”

The study looked at 20 volunteers who had normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Each volunteer was shown a 15-minute segment of a movie – either a comedy, or a drama. The drama was the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan”, while the comedy was “King Pin.” Forty-eight hours later, they were shown the other movie. Brachial artery flow was reduced in 14 of the 20 volunteers following the movie clip that caused mental stress. In contrast, beneficial blood vessel relaxation, or vasodilation, was increased in 19 of the 20 volunteers after they watched the comedy. Overall, average blood flow increased 22 per cent during laughter, and decreased 35 per cent during mental stress. The blood vessel changes lasted for at least 30 to 45 minutes after the volunteers watched a movie.

Effect Of Laughter On Diabetes And Cholesterol

Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunologist, of Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, has paired with Stanley Tan, MD, PhD an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Oak Crest Health Research Institute, Loma Linda, CA, to examine the effect of “mirthful laughter” on individuals with diabetes. They found that laughter, as a preventive adjunct therapy in diabetes care, raised good cholesterol and lowered inflammation.

A group of 20 high-risk diabetic patients with hypertension and hyperlipidemia were divided into two groups: Group C (control) and Group L (laughter). Both groups were started on standard medications for diabetes, hypertension (ACE inhibitor or ARB)) and hyperlipidemia (statins). The researchers followed both groups for 12 months, testing their blood for the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine; HDL cholesterol; inflammatory cytokines TNF-α IFN-γ and IL-6, which contribute to the acceleration of atherosclerosis and C-reactive proteins (hs-CRP), a marker of inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Group L viewed self-selected humor for 30 minutes in addition to the standard therapies described above.

The patients in the laughter group (Group L) had lower epinephrine and norepinephrine levels by the second month, suggesting lower stress levels. They had increased HDL (good) cholesterol. The laughter group also had lower levels of TNF-α, IFN-γ, IL-6 and hs-CRP levels, indicating lower levels of inflammation.

At the end of one year, the research team saw significant improvement in Group L: HDL cholesterol had risen by 26 percent in Group L (laughter), and only 3 percent in the Group C (control). Harmful C-reactive proteins decreased 66 % in the laughter group vs. 26 percent for the control group.

The study suggests that the addition of an adjunct therapeutic mirthful laughter Rx (a potential modulator of positive mood state) to standard diabetes care may lower stress and inflammatory response and increase “good” cholesterol levels. The authors conclude that mirthful laughter may thus lower the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome. Further studies need to be done to expand and elucidate these findings.

Laughter Regulates Genes

Laughter as an intervention or a stimulus has the ability to regulate genes and arouse latent genetic expression. Experiments conducted on T2D (Type 2 Diabetes in Japan at the Foundation for Advancement of International Science, Bio-Laboratory; found that laughter helps regulate gene expression to control the progression of type 2 diabetes. It has a tremendous effect on gene expression in the DNA formation. It has the ability to curtail the expression of the gene that can cause type 2 diabetes. This may not be a cure, but certainly is a preventive.

A Japanese scientist geneticist, Kazuo Murakami used laughter to trigger energy inside a person’s DNA, potentially helping to cure a disease.

Murakami had diabetics laugh at a comedy show performed by top stand-up comedians after listening to a monotonous college lecture. The two-day experiment showed that the diabetics’ blood glucose levels dropped remarkably after they laughed as compared with their levels listening to the boring lecture. He identified 23 genes that are activated with laughter. 18 of these genes control immune response and cell signal transmission.

“A laughing therapy has no side-effects, meaning it’s an epoch-making treatment for clinical medicine,” Murakami said. “One day it won’t be a joke to see patients receive a prescription for a comedy video at a pharmacy for medical treatment,” he added.

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