Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda
University in California have been studying the benefits of
laughter on the immune system. To date their published studies
have shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress
hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function
by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells,
disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells,
which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also
triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural
painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being.
Following is a summary of his research, taken from an interview
published in the September/October 1996 issue of the Humor and
Laughter Activates the Immune System
In Berk's study, the physiological response produced by belly
laughter was opposite of what is seen in classical stress,
supporting the conclusion that mirthful laughter is a eustress
state -- a state that produces healthy or positive emotions.
Research results indicate that, after exposure to humor, there
is a general increase in activity within the immune system,
An increase in the number and activity level of natural killer
cells that attack viral infected cells and some types of cancer
and tumor cells.
An increase in activated T cells (T lymphocytes). There are many
T cells that await activation. Laughter appears to tell the
immune system to "turn it up a notch."
An increase in the antibody IgA (immunoglobulin A), which fights
upper respiratory tract insults and infections.
An increase in gamma interferon, which tells various components
of the immune system to "turn on."
An increase in IgB, the immunoglobulin produced in the greatest
quantity in body, as well as an increase in Complement 3, which
helps antibodies to pierce dysfunctional or infected cells. The
increase in both substances was not only present while subjects
watched a humor video; there also was a lingering effect that
continued to show increased levels the next day.
Laughter - Decreases "Stress" Hormones
The results of the study also supported research indicating a
general decrease in stress hormones that constrict blood vessels
and suppress immune activity. These were shown to decrease in
the study group exposed to humor.
For example, levels of epinephrine were lower in the group both
in anticipation of humor and after exposure to humor.
Epinephrine levels remained down throughout the experiment.
In addition, dopamine levels (as measured by dopac) were also
decreased. Dopamine is a stress hormone involved in the "fight or flight
response" and is associated with elevated blood pressure.
Laughing is aerobic, providing a workout for the diaphragm and
increasing the body's ability to use oxygen.
Laughter brings in positive emotions that can enhance not
replace -- conventional treatments. Hence it is another tool
available to help fight the disease.
Experts believe that, when used as an adjunct to conventional
care, laughter can reduce pain and aid the healing process. For
one thing, laughter offers a powerful distraction from pain.
In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing,
patients were told one-liners after surgery and before painful
medication was administered. Those exposed to humor perceived
less pain when compared to patients who didn't get a dose of
humor as part of their therapy.
Perhaps, the biggest benefit of laughter is that it is free and
has no known negative side effects.
So, here is a summary of how humor contributes to physical
health. More details can be found in the article,
Humor and Health contributed by Paul McGhee
- Belly laugh results in muscle relaxation. While you laugh, the
muscles that do not participate in the belly laugh, relaxes.
After you finish laughing those muscles involved in the laughter
start to relax. So, the action takes place in two stages.
Reduction of Stress Hormones
- Laughter reduces at least four of neuroendocrine hormones
associated with stress response. These are epinephrine, cortisol,
dopac, and growth hormone.
Immune System Enhancement
- Clinical studies have shown that humor strengthens the immune
- Humor allows a person to "forget" about pains such as aches,
- A belly laugh is equivalent to "an internal jogging." Laughter
can provide good cardiac conditioning especially for those who
are unable to perform physical exercises.
- Women seem to benefit more than men in preventing
- Frequent belly laughter empties your lungs of more air than it
takes in resulting in a cleansing effect - similar to deep
breathing. Especially beneficial for patient's who are suffering
from emphysema and other respiratory ailments.
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