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AuthorTopic:   Why laughter really is the best medicine.
cmaxwell
posted June 4, 2001 11:29am
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Why laughter really is the best medicine
A dose of comedy can help your body fight disease according to new research.
By Roger Dobson
24 May 2001
Stand-up comedians may be able to relieve depression... just like that. A dose of comedy taken daily for four weeks has now been found to reduce significantly the symptoms of depression. Some of the patients who were told to spend 30 minutes a day listening to therapeutic tapes of comedians were cured while others found that the severity of their symptoms had been halved.

The research to be reported at an international conference in Belfast on the effects of humour is the latest in a series of studies to show that laughter is healthy and that it can help the body to combat disease.

Although it has been suspected that people who are naturally happier and laugh more often are healthier and live longer this latest body of research suggests that laughter induced by humour is also beneficial. And it is not only depression that can be treated with humour. It's been found to boost the immune system increase natural disease-fighting killer cells and lower blood pressure as well as having a beneficial effect on conditions as diverse as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

One group of researchers has reported that skin reactions triggered by allergies were significantly reduced among patients after they watched a Charlie Chaplin film while another team found that people who don't have a sense of humour are more at risk of heart disease. In America where the use of jokes and humour to treat illness is being pioneered by the American Association for Therapeutic Humor and where the therapy is known as "hee hee healing" there are now more than 100 studies suggesting beneficial effects.

But although humour is being increasingly used as a therapy how it works is not clear and it is not known whether humour has a direct beneficial effect on the brain or whether the benefits arise from the physiological act of laughing. Yet another theory is that humour doesn't have a direct effect it is simply counteracting the impact of everyday stress and anxiety.

"Is it the physical act of laughing itself? Is it the brain pathways which are activated? We simply don't know and more research is needed" says Dr Michael Joseph a paediatrics specialist at University of California who is involved in a five-year project on the effects of humour.

Physical laughter has been found to trigger the release of endorphins the body's natural painkillers and produce a general sense of well-being. One study found that laughing during a 60-minute humorous video decreased blood cortisol levels and increased natural killer activity in a healthy audience. Laughter is also known to relieve stress anxiety depression and insomnia and to promote well-being. It has been found to decrease the levels of immunosuppressive hormones while at the same time boosting the levels of white blood cells that fight tumours and support immunity. Laughing is also thought to affect the immune system by increasing the concentration of circulating antibodies in the blood stream.

Whatever the mechanism at play a growing number of doctors like Dr Hajime Kimata of Unitika Central Hospital in Japan are convinced that humour has a therapeutic effect.

In Dr Kimata's research a group of patients stopped taking allergy medication for three days before watching a comedy video Modern Times starring Charlie Chaplin. Before during and after the film show skin-prick allergy tests were carried out. The same procedure was then repeated with a video of weather information.

The weal responses triggered by dust-mite allergens cedar pollen and cats were significantly reduced after viewing the humorous video. But the weals were no different after watching the weather video. "These results suggest that the induction of laughter may play a role in alleviating allergic diseases" Dr Kimata says.

In the research on depression to be reported at the Belfast conference psychologist Jason Goodson of Utah University will show that stand-up comedians have a significant effect on depressed people. "We put together tapes of mainly stand-up comedians. They watched these tapes for 30 minutes a day for four weeks" he says.

"In the beginning they had a depression score of 19 and anything above 13 is indicative of mild to moderate depression. The group as a whole dropped to 11 after watching the tapes. There was a 42 per cent reduction in symptoms and that was significant."

Dr Ed Dunkleblau a psychotherapist is also using humour to break down barriers and to get people relaxed. He has produced a checklist for would-be humour therapists. He says that they need to avoid sarcasm and abusive humour but most of all they must be careful about being too funny. If there are too many side-splitting one-liners in the counselling session he suggests the patient may end up feeling that they and their problems are not being taken seriously and take their business elsewhere just like that.
TarotCanada
posted June 19, 2001 9:28am
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