As the cliché goes, laughter is the best medicine. But is it really? Is there evidence to support such a claim?It turns out that the research is full of good hard evidence that too much stress results in increased levels of ACTH, cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine; the so-called "stress hormones". This is not normally a good thing. The question remains as to whether humor can decrease stress, positively impact the stress hormones, diminish pain, improve the strength of the immune system, and consequently improve quality of life. This has been a persistent topic of discussion for decades in both the lay and professional medical literature. Certainly, laughing is more affordable than medication, herbs, massage, or lengthy therapy! Unfortunately there is little conclusive evidence that laughter specifically changes these body chemistries. However, the data is encouraging: Laughter has been shown to reduce pain, in at least two ways. It serves as a distraction, and causes the release of endorphins, which reduce the sensation of pain. Laughter may boost the immune system. There appears to be an increase in "killer" antibodies and t-cells - both of which fight infection. Laughter relaxes the muscles and even tones the facial muscles. Blood pressure has been shown to decline following bouts of laughter. Finally, apparently no researcher has found a single harmful effect from laughter. It's cheap, and available. So, it is highly likely that laughter boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes muscles and lowers blood pressure. Laughter adds joy and zest to life, eases anxiety and fear, relieves stress, improves mood, strengthens relationships, enhances teamwork, helps to defuse conflict, promotes bonding, and likely attracts others to us. Here are some strategies for all of us to work on during this upcoming year: •Don't avoid dealing with your stress. Stress is a major impediment to humor and laughter. •Laugh at yourself. Share embarrassing moments and take yourself less seriously. •Laugh more at situations rather than bemoan them. There is often humor to be found even in bad situations. See the irony and absurdity of life! •Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. Put up a funny poster, or keep toys on your desk. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you smile. •Pay attention to children and emulate them. They are truly the experts of play, taking life lightly, and laughing. •Keep things in perspective. Many things in life are beyond your control. Remember the Serenity Prayer, and that you do not control the behavior of others. I always appreciate my patients' willingness to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. It is admirable but unrealistic, unhealthy, and perhaps even egotistical! Good health and humor to you all, and have a very happy New Year! I wish you the best of health. Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: December 23, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 36