Image Credit: Priscilla Du Preez. This image has been modified.

The Health Benefits of Laughter, Tears, and Kisses

In my video, Music as Medicine, I explored a study about how listening to Mozart can reduce allergic reactions. This reminded me of a similar study on humor, which I discuss in Laughter as Medicine. In the study, researchers took a group of people with dust mite allergies and directed half of them to watch a Charlie Chaplin video and the other half to watch the Weather Channel. The researchers then injected all subjects with dust mite poop. In the subjects who watched the humorous video, their allergic response was significantly reduced and this reduction lasted for a matter of hours. This suggests that “the induction of laughter may play some role in alleviating allergic diseases.”

Is there a chance that it might suppress our immune system too much? Apparently not. In fact, if you have people watch a comedian for an hour, their natural killer cell activity goes up, compared to watching nothing. Their white blood cell count, the number of immune cells in their bloodstream, also goes up. The level of immune-boosting interferon and antibody production go up as well and even stay up the next day. So, your body is actually pumping out more antibodies because you saw a funny video the day before. In short, humor seems to offer the best of both worlds at preventing over-reactive allergic responses, while also boosting immune protection.

There is a catch, though. You actually have to laugh. And the more you laugh, the better your natural killer cell activity gets. Exposure to a humorous video without laughing did not significantly affect immune function. Those who didn’t physically laugh did not benefit. This reinforces that it is not the funny video that improved immune function, but our laughter in response. Natural killer cells play a significant role in viral illness and various types of cancer. So, being able to significantly increase the activity of these cells using a brief and non-invasive method could be clinically important the next time you have a cold or cancer.

Laughter, like music or healthy food, offers potential benefits without any risks. Or…almost no risks. You’ve heard of side-splitting laughter? In a rare case, a 67-year-old woman attended laughter therapy sessions where, evidently, rapture led to rupture. Thankfully, you can’t actually laugh your head off, but you can laugh until you wet yourself. “Giggle incontinence,” as it’s called in the medical literature, is actually quite common in women, and is no laughing matter.

Does this mean that the next time you go to the theater, you should choose the comedy over the tear-jerker? Not necessarily. Researchers took people with a latex allergy and had them watch a weather video versus a heart-warming drama. Because viewing the weather information video did not cause emotion with tears, it failed to modulate allergic responses. The tear-jerker, however, successfully reduced the allergic response, but only in those whose tears were actually jerked. So, when it comes to improving allergies, laughing and crying both work, if you actually do them.

Anything else you can do? Kiss! There’s actually a whole science of kissing, which sounds like a pleasant enough college major, until you realize it’s about all the diseases you can get. But if you take people with seasonal pollen or dust mite allergies and have them kiss someone in a room for 30 minutes, they have a significant reduction in their allergic reactions, for both the pollen and the dust mites. If you instead just have them hug for that 30 minutes, there’s no benefit. Bottom line: Kissing significantly reduced allergic responses in patients with both allergic rhinitis (runny nose and itchy eyes) or allergic dermatitis (like a rash). “Collectively these findings indicate that the direct action of love may be beneficial,” though evidently cuddling wasn’t quite direct enough.

With all the side effects of antihistamine drugs, you’d think it would have been easy to get people to sign up for the kissing study. But, it was conducted in Japan where, apparently, they “do not kiss habitually.” The follow-up study, which found a similar benefit for an even more direct action of love, was also performed by researchers who apparently did not speak English as their primary language, evidenced by their speculation about females having more “organisms.”


Did I say “Mozart study”? Yes, there have been a bunch of them, in fact. I had fun with them in my videos Music as Medicine and Music for Anxiety: Mozart vs. Metal. I don’t go seeking out these peripheral topics; I just stumble upon them in the journals. There’s so much wonderful, juicy medical science out there. I wish there were dozens of different NutritionFacts.org-type resources where one could find evidence-based reviews of the latest in the science of wellness. There could be another ten or so websites just on nutrition alone! If anyone out there is interested, I’d be more than happy to share all my know-how to facilitate its creation. I did help the Lifestyle Medicine Foundation develop LifestyleFacts.org. Check it out if you haven’t already.

For less funny and racy ways to combat allergic diseases, see my videos:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


21 responses to “The Health Benefits of Laughter, Tears, and Kisses

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    1. Very funny Jerry.

      Regarding kissing, I came across an interesting book a while ago that for some reason reminded me of you. It includes a chapter on the kiss-off.

      Everyone here who interacts with you or reads your posts might find it useful to read The book is by a Dr Mark Goulson and is called “Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life “. It can be previewed here

      https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=tS9wCgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=effect+of+listening+to+crazy+people&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjf08K3wKTZAhWCEbwKHVcMApYQ6AEILjAB#v=onepage&q&f=false




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  1. The above statements that pretty much any activity (laughing, crying, kissing) works tells me that the real lesson is that anything that gets you in motion, as opposed to resting or sleeping, activates the immune system.




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  2. I don’t think this phenomea is just present with humans…

    I have second hand heard of a study done on rats and cocaine like substances. They say rats kept in isolation will continue to seek and use the substance that gets them high. Rats kept with others will moderate their use.

    Perhaps some of our addiction problem extending from that may be a statement on detachment from others is the thought.




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    1. Ron there been a major study that proves exactly what you’re proposing. It also indicates why supposed heroin addicted Vietnam vets simply stopped using when they got home. –Great study, I wish I could find it.




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  3. Love it, Love it, Love it!!

    Dr. Greger once again has his holistic lifestyle approach to his research and does not limit sharing this important information.

    I think of the plethora of TV shows that focus on crime investigation, dead and diseased “people”, apocalyptic ideas and I wonder what the heck is going on in our body/minds with frequent exposure to those images and information- is there a cost to our health?

    Logic tells me that if laughter and tears of compassion heal us, then very likely our pre-occupation with the opposite has to be having some strong effect on our immune systems. Is there a correlation to the rise in cancer and mental health disorders with the amount of violence and atrocities we witness daily for, “entertainment”?

    My understanding is that our primitive brain has no idea about what the difference is between fantasy and fact. Hmmm. and then add the typical north American diet to the mix.

    A healthy, happy and proud monthly supporter of Nutritionfacts.org




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  4. So, you are helping our Natural Killer Activity, as long as you keep writing good enough jokes?

    But we have to “get’ the joke to find it funny.

    Did they test whether you have to have a full guffaw versus a semi-chuckle?




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  5. The kissing for a half hour study already made me laugh.

    So, we need to set up thirty minute kissing booths during allergy season.

    Unfortunately someone has to kiss the people whose nose are dripping with allergies.




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  6. The laughter study tells me that the Weather Channel needs better joke writers.

    Though I am somewhat suspicious of that study, because I already would have been laughing if they told me that they were going to inject me with dust mite poop.




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  7. I am also laughing, because I am the only one who is going to go into stand up comic mode just reading this article.

    I am like the beneficial bacteria giving back.




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  8. The next time I have a cold or cancer, I’d like to think about the study participants that had more organisms. I am sure that thought has the potential to make me laugh for real for many years to come. Thanks for supporting my immune health, Dr. Greger!




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  9. Dr. Greger, your comment on starting other Fact.org sites reminded me of old J.I. Rodale and his “Prevention” magazine. Long before the Internet, he painstakingly read through JAMA, and other medical journals, extracting useful material which he then published, using understandable English. I subscribed for many years and kept most issues–up until he died and his son took over. Then, it was back to “consult your doctor”. I learned so much from his material and still wish someone would again extract useful information, just as you are doing. Thank you!




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  10. I wish I could learn fast enough to do sites, but you have stolen my heart by making your site funny.

    I have to give a shout out to your script writers, because you are already naturally funny and see humor in situations, but I am guessing that they help you to get the comic timing right.

    I genuinely appreciate your humor so much. I emailed my friend whose family has gone Keto about twenty of your cancer videos today, because I know she will enjoy them. How many people can say that about Cancer videos?

    I am wondering if the Food Network has contacted you yet. And they are crazy if they haven’t.




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  11. Hi Dr. Greger and his amazing staff,

    I tried emailing the doctor and didn’t get a response so I’m going to try posting about it. I’m starting a website to share the latest and best research on depression and mental wellness. It will include information about the most effective and least effective therapies and medications for those able to get professional help as well as information from diverse fields (including nutrition!) on how to promote mental health through lifestyle interventions.

    Currently I own the domain name riseabovedepression.com but I’m seeing if I can raise the 1500 dollars to purchase the domain name depressionfacts.org I would love it if someone at nutritionfacts could reach out to me to help with any tips, pointers, or help! Thanks! =D




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