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Laughter as Medicine

Posted on October 20, 2012 at 11:10 AM


 



Laugh Hard! Laugh Loud!

Laugh until you Cry!

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Laughter in and of itself cannot cure cancer nor prevent cancer, but laughter as part of the full range of positive emotions including hope, love, faith, strong will to live, determination and purpose, can be a significant and indispensable aspect of the total fight for recovery."



-Harold H. Benjamin, PhD From Humor Your Tumor (April, 1999) - By Paul McGhee, PhD


"The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease." -Voltaire


There are few sources of stress in life greater than the words, "You have cancer." And we have known for decades that any kind of stress - especially chronic stress that's there day after day - has a suppressive effect on the immune system. You are more vulnerable to becoming ill when constantly stressed precisely because your immune system is not operating as well is it normally would - if you were under less stress or were coping with it more effectively.


Your sense of humor provides a powerful antidote to immunosuppressive effects of stress in two ways through:


1) direct effects of humor and laughter upon the immune system, and


2) indirect effects resulting from humor's ability to help you cope on the tough days. In this column, we'll focus only on the direct immuno - enhancement effects of humor.


Research has looked at both humoral (immunoglobulins) and cellular immunity. In the case of the former, most of the studies have focused on immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA resides in the mucosal areas and helps protect you against upper respiratory infections. Seven studies have shown significant increases in concentrations of IgA in response to comedy programs designed to produce a lot of laughter.


While many different investigators have completed the IgA research, Lee Berk and his associates at the School of Medicine at Loma Linda University has obtained similar findings for many additional components of the immune system. The rest of this column is based on findings from his research.


Mirthful laughter also increases levels of IgM and IgG. IgM antibodies are the first to arrive at a location within the body as a part of the humoral immune response. After IgM does its initial work, IgG takes over. It is IgG antibodies that are produced in the greatest amount in the body, and that are responsible for long-term immunity. When you are immunized, for example, it is the IgG antibodies that are tested to see if the procedure was successful.


Laughter also increases levels of Complement 3, a part of your immune system that helps antibodies pierce through defective or infected cells in order to destroy them.


With respect to cellular immunity, watching a one-hour comedy video has been found to produce


1) increased number of B cells,


2) increased number of, and activation of, T cells,


3) increased number of Helper T cells (the cells attacked by the AIDS virus),


4) increased ratio of Helper/Suppressor T cells,


5) increased number of, and activity of, Natural Killer (NK) cells, and


6) increased levels of Gamma Interferon.


The increased number of B cells is not surprising, given the increased levels of IgA, IgG, and IgM, since B cells are responsible for making all the immunoglobulins.


The findings for NK cells and Gamma Interferon are especially important for cancer patients. NK cells are designed to seek out and destroy tumor (cancer) cells (they also destroy virally infected cells, even with no prior exposure). Gamma Interferon plays an important role in the activation of NK cells. It also contributes to the growth of cytotoxic T cells and the maturation of B cells. It is best thought of as a kind of orchestra leader that regulates the level of cooperation between cells in the immune system, and tells different components of the immune system when to turn on and off.

 

There is something about humor and laughter, then, that causes the immune system to "turn on" metabolically and do more effectively what it is designed to do. This is one reason there is no so much interest in the therapeutic benefits of humor in oncology centers across the country. It's also responsible for the increased interest in having speakers on the health and coping benefits of humor for National Cancer Survivors Day Celebrations for those who are living with cancer.

 

While these data are exciting, they do not mean that laughter will cure you from cancer, or any other disease. Humor and laughter are not a replacement for the treatment you or your loved one are undergoing. But there's now every reason to believe that the patient makes an important contribution to his/her own treatment by managing their frame of mind or emotional state. Building more laughter into your life helps assure that you'll have all your body's own natural healing resources fully available to you.


Remember to take you illness seriously, but take yourself lightly in dealing with it on a day-to-day basis. So lighten up! Jest for the health of it.




From Humor Your Tumor (February, 1999) - By Paul McGhee, PhD.


A nurse recently told me of a Methodist minister who had been in a serious accident and had to spend several weeks in the hospital. He had a lot of pain, and was given shots to reduce it. The procedure was always the same. When the pain got bad enough, he would ring a buzzer near his bed, and a nurse would soon come to give him the shot. One day, he rang for the nurse and then rolled over on his side (with his back to the door), pulled his hospital gown up over his exposed backside, and waited for the nurse to come in. When he heard the door open, he pointed to his right bare buttock and said, "Why don't you give me the shot right here this time?"


After a few moments of silence, he looked up. It was a woman from his church! Following a brief embarrassing conversation, the woman left, and the minister--realizing what he had done - started laughing. He laughed so hard that tears were coming out of his eyes when the nurse arrived. When he tried to explain what had happened, he began laughing even harder.


When he was finally able to tell the nurse the whole story, what do you think he noticed? His pain was gone! He didn't need the shot, and didn't ask for one for another 90 minutes.

        

At some point following their diagnosis of cancer, many cancer patients find themselves thinking, "How will I deal with the pain?" The last coping resource they consider is their sense of humor. And yet there are many stories like the one above, along with a growing body of scientific research, showing that humor and laughter can play a significant role in reducing pain.


The idea that laughter has analgesic properties is not new. Dr. James Walsh, an American physician, noted in his 1928 book, Laughter and Health, that laughter appeared to reduce the level of pain experienced following surgery. This observation then disappeared from the medical literature until the publication of Norman Cousins' 1979 book, Anatomy of an Illness.


Cousins was suffering from ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative spinal disease which left him in almost constant pain. With the consent of his doctors, he checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel across the street. He invited friends over and watched a lot of comedy films--and laughed a lot! He discovered that as little as 10 minutes of laughter would give him 2 hours of pain-free sleep.


Several studies have now documented the pain-reducing power of humor and laughter. In one study, watching or listening to humorous tapes increased the length of time participants were able to keep their hand in ice water before it became painful. Another study showed that those who found the comedy material funnier were able to endure the ice water longer than those who found it less funny.

         

In a study of 35 patients in a rehabilitation hospital, 74% agreed with the statement, "Sometimes laughing works as well as a pain pill." These patients had a broad range of conditions, such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, arthritis, limb amputations, and other neurological or musculoskeletal disorders.


The explanation for why laughter reduces pain is not yet clear. While most people assume that it's because of the production of endorphins (one of the body's natural pain killers), there is still no scientific evidence to support this view. The reduced pain may also be because of the muscle relaxation that occurs from laughter, or because humor and laughter distract us from the source of pain.


If you're a chronic pain suffer, it doesn't really matter why humor and laughter ease your pain. The important thing is that it does. So you can just accept it as a gift on the days when you manage to find something to laugh at.


While laughter clearly helps ease pain for many individuals, it doesn't do so for everyone. It is not clear at this point just what kinds of pain a good laugh can and cannot soothe. The best advice at this point is to just build more laughter into your life and see whether it works for you. What do you have to lose? Even if it doesn't eliminate your pain, it will boost your spirits and bring more joy into your life on the difficult days.



Laughter increases the level of endorphins, which are natural pain killers found in your body.


Laughter brings about well-being by combating destructive stress, depression, rage, and insomnia. It provides an overall liberating effect. Distraction from oneself, from one's physical and other concerns, plays a beneficial role too.


Humor is infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. In addition to the domino effect of joy and amusement, laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, and easy to use.


Laughter is Strong Medicine for Mind and Body. Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.


With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health.

        

Laughter is Good for Your Health Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins.


From a purely physiological standpoint laughter creates increased relaxation and oxygenation. Endorphins, the body's homegrown "narcotics," go to work. The body's immune system is stimulated as well. New evidence suggests that you may want to consider laughter as part of your comprehensive wellness programme. It not only boosts your mood, but it also revs up your immune system, protects your heart, lowers blood pressure, reduces pain, improves lung capacity and provides a general sense of well-being. A good belly laugh also reduces stress hormones in your body.






Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.


The Benefits of Laughter Physical Health Benefits:


  • Boosts immunity
  • Lowers stress hormones
  • Decreases pain
  • Relaxes your muscles
  • Prevents heart disease
  • Mental Health Benefits:
  • Adds joy and zest to life
  • Eases anxiety and fear
  • Relieves stress Improves mood
  • Enhances resilience Social Benefits:

  • Strengthens relationships
  • Attracts others to us
  • Enhances teamwork
  • Helps defuse conflict
  • Promotes group bonding


A good giggle makes patients feel better, not only emotionally but also physically. It temporarily makes their pains, even severe cancer pains, disappear.


Laughter makes you feel good. And the good feeling that you get when you laugh remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss.


More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh–or even simply a smile–can go a long way toward making you feel better. And laughter really is contagious—just hearing laughter primes your brain and readies you to smile and join in the fun.


The Link Between Laughter and Mental Health


Laughter dissolves distressing emotions. You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing. Laughter helps you relax and recharge. It reduces stress and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more. Humor shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. The Social Benefits of Humor and Laughter Humor and playful communication strengthen our relationships by triggering positive feelings and fostering emotional connection. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment.


Laughing with others is more powerful than laughing alone.


Creating opportunities to laugh Watch a funny movie or TV show.Go to a comedy club.Read the funny pages.Seek out funny people.Share a good joke or a funny story.Check out your bookstore’s humor section.Host game night with friends.Play with a pet.Go to a “laughter yoga” class. (See Below)


Goof around with children.Do something silly.Make time for fun activities (e.g. bowling, miniature golfing, karaoke). Shared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play also adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times.


Incorporating more humor and play into your daily interactions can improve the quality of your love relationships - as well as your connections with co-workers, family members, and friends. Using humor and laughter in relationships allows you to:


Be more spontaneous. Humor gets you out of your head and away from your troubles. Let go of defensiveness. Laughter helps you forget judgments, criticisms, and doubts. Release inhibitions. Your fear of holding back and holding on are set aside. Express your true feelings. Deeply felt emotions are allowed to rise to the surface. You have probably noticed that you feel a lot better after a good belly laugh. The problem is that your sense of humor generally abandons you just when you need it the most - when you get sick.