This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
2001 Second Web Report
If on Thursday evenings you find yourself glued to the television laughing hysterically for the entire thirty minutes of the Friends episode, you may be doing more than just being entertained; you may be doing your health a favor. While it is common knowledge that laughter can serve to raise spirits and relieve stress, there is scientific evidence that laughter may also be able to aid in the curing of diseases. The notion that laughing has healing powers is not a new concept. Dating to at least ancient Greece, hospitals were built next to amphitheatres to help "cure" the patients.(6). Do we laugh because we're happy and healthy, or are we happy and healthy because we laugh?
Laughter involves the entire physiology of the body. When researching its effects, lab experimentation has been done on the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, the muscular system, the central nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system.(6). Laughter releases endorphins, the body's natural painkiller, and so is a pleasant act, producing a general feeling of well-being. However, more than this, laughter has been shown to considerably benefit one's health and even battle disease. Laughter brings about an increase in the number and activity level of natural killer cells that attack cells infected by virus and some types of cancer and tumor cells. This possibility of laughter's ability to fight tumorous cells has added an exciting new, and controversial area of research to cancer.(2). The body also experiences a boost in immune function by the elevated levels of activated T cells (T lymphocytes), and an increase in the antibody, IgA (immunoglobulin A), which fights upper respiratory tract insults and infections.(3). Disease-fighting proteins increase in gamma interferon, a blood chemical that transmits messages in the nervous system and stimulates the immune system. An increase in IgB (immunoglobulin B) brings defense against the entry of infectious organisms through the respiratory tract.(2). In general, laughter raises your resistance against infections by increasing the concentration of circulating antibodies in the blood stream and increasing the concentration of circulating white blood cells in the immune reaction to fight foreign proteins.(4). In addition to all of this, laughter is simply a good cardio workout, increasing heart activity, and thus stimulating circulation. After the laughter subsides, the cardiovascular system goes into a state of relaxation.(1).
As a country, we spend millions on prescription drugs each year, overlooking the coping mechanisms we naturally posses. For the most part, our bodies were designed to heal and cope for themselves. Stress of daily life affects us immensely, both physically and mentally, and laughter serves as our natural coping mechanism for the stress of normal life.(5). Stress constricts blood vessels, and thus lowers our immune systems, and ability to fight off disease. Studies have shown that laughter lowers levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine, and in effect reversing the constriction of blood vessels.(2).
While there is clinical evidence of the beneficial effects of laughter on the body, the extent to which laughter can actually battle, or cure diseases remains controversial. Many believe that laughter is merely a distraction from pain, while others believe that laughter can work wonders beyond that. There have been many experiments run which have shown the phenomena of laughter, and there are a few miracle stories of laughter saving lives. The most famous story of laughter as medicine is that of Norman Cousins. Norman Cousins had been the editor of the Saturday Review for over thirty years, and has written numerous books including Anatomy of an Illness. In 1964, Norman Cousins returned home from a meeting in Moscow experiencing severe joint pain and with fever. He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a collagen illness that attacks the connective tissues of the body, most likely due to exposure to heavy-metal poisoning. Cousins questioned this diagnosis because his wife had been with him, but experienced none of the symptoms. He began to research the effects of stress on the body, and learned that it could be detrimental to the immune system. Cousins read of the theory that negative emotions be harmful to the body, and so hypothesized that if the negative emotions were detrimental to your health, then the positive emotions should improve health. Cousins, still battling his ailment, was being treated with high doses of painkillers, which he realized were being harmful to his body. This realization motivated him to prescribe himself a medication of a different sort. He hired a nurse who would read him humorous stories, and play for him Marx Brothers movies. This proved to be effective, as in very little time, Cousins was off of all painkillers and sleeping pills. He found that the laughter relieved pain and would help him sleep. Cousins published his story and his claims of the benefits of laughter, but was received with much criticism. In 1989, it was finally acknowledged in the Journal of the American Medical Association that laughter therapy could help to improve the quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses, and that laughter has an immediate symptom-relieving effect.(5). The increase in threshold for pain during laughter that Cousins experienced has been confirmed in laboratory studies. Since Norman Cousins declared that he "laughed himself out of" a deadly disease, scientists have theorized that laughter has the ability to strengthen the human immune system.(3).
"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." This, said by Mark Twain is what, as of present, we can be certain to assert about the effects of laughter on the body. It is clinically believed that when used in addition to conventional care, laughter can reduce pain and aid and speed the healing process. It has been shown that laughter has the ability to enhance conventional treatments, but not replace them. In many studies, we have seen laughter to have miraculous effects, such as relieving stress, and increasing threshold for pain. Laughter is so miraculous partially because it works as a prescription drug, but is entirely natural and has no negative side effects. As shown with Norman Cousins, laughter can even save lives.
2) Holistic-online.com ,
4) MDA Publications ,
5) Magic stream health news ,
6) Thrive Online ,
| Back to Biology 103 | Back to Biology | Back to Serendip |