Therapeutic laughter may reduce the risk of heart disease associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome, according to a small study presented at the 122nd Annual Meeting of the American Physiological Society, held in New Orleans in April. Since the 1970s, when author Norman Cousins found that regular doses of laughter helped his autoimmune disorder go into remission, scientists have been interested in the physiological effects of laughter.
Past studies have shown that anticipation of laughter reduces detrimental stress hormones and stimulates mood-elevating endorphins and human growth hormone, which strengthen the immune system. Lee Berk, DrPh, MPH, preventive-care specialist and psychoneuroimmunologist at Loma Linda University, teamed with Stanley Tan, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Oak Crest Health Research Institute in Loma Linda, California, to study the effect of laughter on people with diabetes.
The researchers divided 20 high-risk diabetic patients with high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels into two groups—a laughter group and a control group. All subjects took standard prescription medications. Laughter group members viewed self-selected humorous programs for 30 minutes daily. At the end of 12 months, investigators retested all participants for hormone, cholesterol and inflammation markers such as C-reactive proteins.
Laughter group members had a 26% increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol compared with a 3% increase among the control group. C-reactive proteins, a measure of inflammation in the body, were 66% lower in the laughter group and only 26% lower in the control group. Berk said, “There is an intrinsic physiological intervention brought about by positive emotions such as mirthful laughter, optimism and hope.” Both Berk and Tan concluded that therapeutic mirthful laughter might lower disease risks. Further research was recommended.
To learn more about this study, go to www.the-aps.org/press.