Laugh and The World Laughs With You

Wednesday Sep. 8th, 2010

Robert Worobec

OK, let’s start with a joke:

What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
Make me one with everything.

Cymbal crash, badda-bing, badda-boom!

If you’ve ever suffered through watching a comedy video that all of your friends vowed was screamingly funny but you found a total bore, you know that what makes each of us laugh is highly subjective.
How about a look at laughter as an actual cure? Can our sense of humor really help heal us? Can something that’s free and has no side effects, unlike high-priced painkillers, be good medicine?

We probably wouldn’t chuckle much at Japanese jokes, yet there was an incredible study done in Japan to discover if any connection exists between blood glucose levels and laughter.

The researchers measured the blood glucose levels of twenty-four people, nineteen with type 2 diabetes, five without, on two separate days before and after they ate the same meal. Right after the meal, the patients watched either a forty-minute lecture on a dry topic (think your most boring high school class) or a forty-minute comedy show. The blood sugar levels rose in everyone after each meal, but those who watched the comedy show actually had a smaller increase.

What about a world where diabetes could be helped by specific laughter therapy? Fascinating!
Some other research is showing that laughter can increase your tolerance to pain, lower risk of heart attack, reduce levels of stress hormones, and boost your immune system.

That acerbic jokester Groucho Marx, who always had a comment on everything, put it this way: A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast.

Another fascinating study completed at UCLA tested the pain responses of twenty-one children by measuring their sensitivity to ice-cold water. The kids watched funny videos before, during, and after placing their arm in the water, and guess what? The ones who laughed just before contacting the potential icy pain said the water didn’t feel so bad. Those who laughed while their arm was in the water could do it longer.

But to me the most significant result from this experiment concerned those children who reported less pain. They had lower blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which may affect their sensitivity to pain. More research will be conducted to confirm that laughter might increase your body’s threshold
to pain.

We’ve always heard that laughter makes us lighthearted, but what about humor actually protecting our heart? One study at the University of Maryland involved people with a history of heart attacks or heart surgery. The control group included people who had no heart problems at all.

All of these folks were given a questionnaire to determine what made them laugh. Answer these questions yourself.

Are you able to use humor in uncomfortable social situations? Would you laugh or feel stressed if someone showed up at a party in the same outfit as yours? What would be your response if a drink was spilled on you accidentally?

The conclusion reached was that those with heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh a lot or use humor as a coping mechanism.

We don’t know why laughing protects the heart, but we do know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the protective barrier that lines our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat cholesterol buildup in the coronary arteries, and ultimately heart attack.
As that medical clown and doctor Patch Adams has demonstrated, laughter is the flip side of stress. His work (his play?) has always focused on helping patients with chronic illness cope with their fears by utilizing humor. (Natural health tip: rent the movie Patch Adams for some good laugh therapy).

High levels of hormonal cortisol caused by stress suppress your immune system, causing your blood pressure to rise. So we’re now finding that laughing lowers your cortisol while increasing endorphins, those feel-good hormones. Laughter also increases your natural killer cells and T-cells which attack viruses and even some cancer cells. Wow!

So laughter can have an effect on chronic pain over time and enhance immunoreactivity, as well as help with depression and sleep and anxiety disorders.

Remember Norman Cousins, who pioneered laughter research when he himself contracted cancer? He prolonged his own life and overcame his illness by creating a mood in which the other positive emotions could be put to work, too.

So, dear readers, remember to take every opportunity to laugh because you are more likely to see the bright side of a situation and to have a more positive outlook, which ultimately promotes healing. Take a cue from a greeting card I saw: “Angels take themselves lightly.”
Chuckles to all!