Tell Two Jokes and Call Me in the Morning
Laughter really may be the best medicine. Two local experts explain why. Plus, a new laser could reduce chronic pain, and a doctor has strict orders about maintaining your heart health.
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The field of laughter therapy dates back to the publication in 1979 of Norman Cousins’ seminal work “Anatomy of an Illness,” in which Cousins, who suffered from a serious illness called ankylosing spondylitis, noted that laughter afforded him a predictable measure of relief from his almost constant pain. Ten minutes of hearty laughter translated into two hours of freedom from pain.
After publication of Cousins’ book, researchers began serious study of laughter and pain reduction. From there the research branched out to include laughter’s ability to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. More recent studies have turned to the effect of laughter on specific illnesses.
Laughter, for example, promotes cardiac health in several ways. McGhee points to one study that put two groups of heart attack survivors through traditional cardiac rehab. One group also watched a comedy video three times a week. At the end of one year, the comedy-watching group had suffered significantly fewer additional heart attacks. They also had few episodes of cardiac arrhythmia and significantly lower blood pressures.
Further study identified more specifically why the comedy-watching patients fared better. As it turns out, laughter not only reduces “stress-linked cardiovascular reactivity,” it also “supports a healthy inner lining of arteries,” reduces levels of inflammatory cytokines and C-reactive proteins (which are markers of inflammation), and even reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Researchers are studying the benefits of humor and laughter for pulmonary illnesses, rheumatoid arthritis, skin allergies and diabetes, as well as for strengthening the immune system.
McGhee notes that nurses were the first medical professionals to give credence to the physical benefits of laughter. “Doctors are starting to get on board now that specific data is coming out,” he says. That’s not to say that all doctors were slow on the uptake. McGhee points to one Pennsylvania doctor who gives out laughter prescriptions to his patients. The 1998 movie “Patch Adams” made famous one doctor who used humor therapy, but the idea did not spread among the medical community as McGhee had expected.
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