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Healthy Living

Humor Improves Health

humor

The adage that laughter is the best medicine is now being backed up by scientific evidence. A new study conducted by the University of California at Irvine is the first to show that merely the anticipation of a positive event or outcome, such as watching a humorous video, can elevate people's moods and potentially boost immune system functions.

Previous studies led by Lee Berk, MD, PhD, demonstrated that laughter can fend off many of the physiological effects of distress. When humans are stressed, their bodies release large quantities of the hormones cortisol and epinephrine, better known as adrenaline. The secretion of these hormones sets off a cascade of responses including increased blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar and energy available to the brain and muscles. Although this stress response works wonderfully in flight-or-fight situations, chronic stress can suppress immune system functions including anti-viral and anti-tumor defenses.

Mirthful laughter can ameliorate the damaging effects of the stress hormones, because laughter enhances the secretion of growth hormone, an enhancer of these same key immune responses. Berk explains, "The biological effects of a single one-hour session of viewing a humorous video can last from 12 to 24 hours, while other studies of daily 30-minute exposure to such humor and laughter videos produces profound and long-lasting changes in these measures."

In new work, Berk and his colleage David Felten, MD, PhD, show that the expectation of watching a funny video can work wonders for the mood and potentially the immune system as well. The mood states of 10 men were evaluated using Profile of Mood States (POMS), which measures changes in tension, depression, anger, vigor and fatigue. The POMS was administered two days prior, 15 minutes prior and immediately following the viewing of a funny video of the men's choice. Results showed that two days before viewing, levels of depression decreased 51 percent, anger fell by 19 percent, confusion diminished by 36 percent and fatigue by 15 percent.

The findings conclude that the anticipation of laughter, as much as the humor event itself, can initiate positive mood changes prior to the actual experience. Berk contends that the expectation of positive events is a synonym for the "biology of hope," which can decrease the release of stress-related hormones, boost immune response and potentially contribute to wellness and the therapeutic healing process

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