(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Repetitive mirthful laughter – or Laughercise
-- enhances your mood, decreases stress hormones, enhances immune activity,
lowers bad cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, and raises good
Norman Cousins first suggested in the 1970s the health benefits of humor and
associated laughter. His ground-breaking work documented his use of laughter
in treating himself into remission from an autoimmune disease. His personal
research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and he is
considered one of the architects of mind-body medicine.
Dr. Lee S. Berk, director of the molecular research lab at Loma Linda
University's Schools of Allied Health (SAHP) and Medicine, Loma Linda, CA,
and Dr. Stanley Tan have picked up where Cousins left off.
Since the 1980s, they have been studying the human body's response to
mirthful laughter. They established that laughter helps optimize the
endocrine system, reducing stress by decreasing levels of cortisol and
epinephrine. They demonstrated laughter’s positive effect on modulating
components of the immune system, increasing production of antibodies and
activating the body's protective cells.
Their studies have shown that repetitious "mirthful laughter," which they
call Laughercise, causes a body response similar to the body response to
moderate physical exercise.
"We are finally starting to realize that our everyday behaviors and emotions
are modulating our bodies in many ways," Berk was quoted as saying.
Berk, Dr. Jerry Petrofsky and colleagues have completed a new study, which
expands the role of laughter even further. They recruited 14 healthy
volunteers to examine the effects that eustress (mirthful laughter) and
distress have on modulating the key hormones that control appetite.
During the study, each subject was required to watch one 20-minute video
that was either upsetting (distress) or humorous (eustress) in nature. The
volunteers waited one week after watching the first video to eliminate its
effect, then watched the opposite genre of video.
Researchers used the tense first 20 minutes of the movie “Saving Private
Ryan” for a distressing video clip. This highly emotional video clip is
known to distress viewers substantially and equally.
The volunteers were allowed to "self-select" the eustress video clips that
most appealed to them to guarantee their maximum humor response. They were
offered a variety of humorous options including stand-up comedians and movie
The researchers measured each subject's blood pressure and took blood
samples immediately before and after they watched the respective videos.
Each blood sample was examined for the levels of two hormones involved in
appetite, leptin and ghrelin.
Researchers found that the volunteers who watched the distressing video
showed no statistically significant change in their appetite hormone levels
during the 20 minutes they spent watching the video.
In contrast, the subjects who watched the humorous video had changes in
blood pressure and also changes in the leptin and ghrelin levels. The level
of leptin decreased as the level of ghrelin increased, much like the acute
effect of moderate physical exercise that is often associated with increased
"The ultimate reality of this research is that laughter causes a wide
variety of modulation and that the body's response to repetitive laughter is
similar to the effect of repetitive exercise,” Berk explained. “The value of
the research is that it may provide for those who are health care providers
with new insights and understandings, and thus further potential options for
patients who cannot use physical activity to normalize or enhance their
For example, many elderly patients suffer from what is known as "wasting
disease." They become depressed, lose their appetite and jeopardize their
health. Based on Berk's current research, these patients may be able to use
Laughercise as an alternative, initially less strenuous, activity to regain
A similar loss of appetite is seen in widowers who suffer depression after
the loss of a spouse. This can result in decreased immune-system function
and subsequent illness. Chronic pain patients suffer from appetite loss due
to the chemical changes in their body caused by intolerable discomfort.
While laughter may seem unimaginable in the face of deep depression or
intense chronic pain, it may be an accessible starting point for these
patients to improve and enhance their recovery to health.
SOURCE: Presented at the Experimental Biology conference in Anaheim, CA,
April 24-28, 2010.