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Laughter and Healing
The Effects of Laughter on the Healing Process and the Use of Technology to Track Statistics
How Laughter Works
Benefits of Laughter
Using Technology in Humor Research
The Effects of Laughter on the Healing Process and the Use of Technology to Track Statistics
In the United States, billions of dollars are spent every year on medical treatments (Diggs, 2004). However, according to Diggs, people often "overlook the coping mechanisms we have been endowed with." The human body has innate mechanisms that provide self-care, which is often better than drugs. The Bible says: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones."
There has been a great deal of research on the effects of laughter on a person's physical and mental health (Diggs, 2004). These studies show that when we laugh, there is an actual chemical change in our bodies that eases pain and releases stress. Laughter serves as coping mechanism for the normal stress of life and may even aid the healing process.
There are two types of stress -- distress, which is negative stress; and eustress, which is positive stress (Diggs, 2004). While distress increases stress hormones such as beta-endorphin, corticotrophin, cortisol, growth hormone, prolactin, and the catecholamines, eustress lowers hormones and increases the activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells that prevent disease and heal (Berk & Tan 1996). Distressful events and major life changes often have a negative impact on a person's health. Stress depletes the immune system's ability to fight disease.
Several studies have examined the stimulating effects of laughter on the circulatory, respiratory, as well as the psychoneuroimmune system and connections within the body. Researhers have found a pattern of stimulation from laughter followed by realization of various body systems. Still, while humor is one of the most prevalent forms of human social behavior, it is still among the least studied or understood.
The purpose of this paper is to address the question of whether laughter plays a role in the healing process. The literature review will include studies on laughter and humor in the medical industry, then discuss some of the mechanisms by which humor and laughter are believed to affect health.
How Laughter Works
Laughter is a type of eustress that releases the negative emotions that cause harmful chemical effects on the body (Berk and Tan, 1996) (Diggs, 2004). Similar to exercise, there are two stages to laughter: the arousal phase -- when the heart rate increases -- and the resolution phase -- when the heart rests. A person's heart can increase to120 beats per minute (bpm) when laughing. Laughing can lower a person's blood pressure, increase vascular flow, and improve the immune system. It works out the diaphragm, abdominal, intercostal, respiratory accessory, and facial muscles. Laughter also releases endorphins in the brain; which are the bodies' natural painkillers (Wooten, 1995).
Nearly 2000 years ago, the physician Galen said that cheerful women were less likely to get cancer than depressed women (Simonton, 1978) (Diggs, 2004). John Steinbeck wrote: "A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ." Laughter's painkilling elements and its ability to fight disease have added a new area of research to cancer. Researchers O. Carl Simonton, M.D. And Stephanie Matthews-Simonton (1978) demonstrated that a person's emotional status affects their likelihood of getting or overcoming cancer. Perhaps, if people would start relieving their stress through laughter before they get cancer, there might be a reduction in the total number of cancer patients.
Review of Existing Literature
According to Christopher Kent (2001): "A frequent question asked by patients and practitioners is "To what extent do intent, attitude and touch affect health outcomes?" Although these issues may seem unrelated to the technical aspects of health care, a growing body of evidence suggests that such factors may significantly affect the healing process." recent study (Bunnell, 1999) examined whether "healing with intent" had a proven effect on pepsin enzyme activity (Kent, 2001). The rate of breakdown of egg albumin by a one percent pepsin solution was measured across 20 separate trials. This assessment method eliminated the possibility of a placebo effect. The reaction rate of samples "healed with intent" was measured against "unhealed" controls. The samples "healed by intent" revealed significantly greater reaction rates than the controls.
Similarly, studies on healing by laughter have yielded remarkable results (Kent, 2001). Laughter and humor may have beneficial health effects, according to recent research. Berk et al. (2000) studied how humor-associated laughter modulated certain neuroimmune parameters. Fifty-two healthy men took part in a study. Blood samples were taken 10 minutes before watching an hour-long humor video. According to Kent (2001): Additional blood samples were taken 30 minutes into the video, 30 minutes after the viewing was completed and 12 hours after the viewing. Increases were found in natural killer cell activity: Immunoglobins G. And M, with several immunoglobin effects lasting 12 hours after viewing the humor video. Other effects lasting at least 12 hours were increases in leukocyte subsets and cytokine interferon gamma."
The study concluded, "Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during and following the humor-associated eustress [pleasant or curative stress] of laughter may provide beneficial health effects for wellness... (Kent, 2001)"
Berk's findings were met with skepticism. Robert R. Provine, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation (Lee, 2001), criticized Berk's research methods. "It's impossible to know whether the reported effects are produced by laughter, humor or something not considered, like watching the video," Provine suggests."My not unreasonable concern is that a study about laughter should observe laughter."
Berk and Tan have completed a great deal of research in psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). PNI holds that the immune system is directly connected to the brain; therefore, it would be influenced by emotions (Diggs, 2004). One of Berk and Tan's experiments revealed that immunosuppressive hormones (hormones that harm the immune system) such as epinephrine and cortisol were lower in those participants that laughed than in those who did not (Wooten, 1995). Another experiment performed by Berk and Tan (1996) proved that laughing (while watching a funny video) increases the amount of NK cells.
Indirectly, stress is one of the greatest killers of human beings (Diggs, 2004). It is physically and mentally harmful, breaking the immune system down, and making people more susceptible to sickness and disease. While many doctors concentrate on treating the disease, it is important to treat the cause.
In many cases, stress is impossible to treat, as the stressors cannot be removed from a person's life (Diggs, 2004). Laughter can help lessen the stress. As Mark Twain once said, "The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that's laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place."
In a separate study by Kimata (2001), allergy patients who watched a Charlie Chaplin comedy had skin welts shrink, an effect that did not occur in control subjects who watched weather reports instead (Kent, 2001).
Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California study the effects of laughter on the immune system (Holistic Online, 2004). Their research suggests 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."
Berk's 1996 research on the effects of laughter on the immune system revealed that the physiological response produced by belly laughter was opposite of what is typically seen in classical stress, suggesting that laughter is a eustress state -- a state that produces healthy emotions (Holistic Online, 2004).
Studies show that, after exposure to humor, activity within the immune system tends to increase, including (Holistic Online, 2004):
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."
Berks' study also found a general decrease in stress hormones that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity (Holistic Online, 2004). These decreased in the study group exposed to humor. For instance, levels of epinephrine…[continue]
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