Laughter as Medicine

Laughter as Medicine
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What effects do laughing, crying, kissing, cuddling, and sex have on immune function and allergic responses?

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The study I explored about how listening to Mozart can reduce allergic reactions reminded me of a similar study on humor. Took a bunch of people with dust mite allergies; half watched Charlie Chaplin; half watched the weather channel. Then, they injected them with dust mite poop, and the allergic response was significantly reduced after viewing the humorous video for a matter of hours, suggesting that the induction of laughter may play some role in alleviating allergic diseases. But, might it suppress our immune system too much?

No. Say we have people watch a comedian for an hour, and their natural killer cell activity goes up, compared to watching nothing. And, their white blood count goes up, the number of immune cells in their bloodstream, the level of immune-boosting interferon goes up and stays up the next day, and the same with antibody production; pumping out more antibodies because yesterday you saw some video. So, humor seems to offer the best of both worlds at preventing the over reactive allergic response while boosting immune protection.

But, you actually have to laugh. The more you laugh, the better your natural killer cell activity gets, but exposure to a humorous video alone did not significantly affect immune function. Those that didn’t laugh—maybe because it was a Bill Cosby video, did not benefit, reinforcing that it is not the funny video that improved immune function, but our laughter in response. Because of the role natural killer cells play in viral illness and various types of cancer, the ability to significantly increase their activity in a brief period of time using a noninvasive 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 risk, or almost any risk. You’ve heard of side-splitting laughter? 67-year old woman attending laughter therapy sessions and evidently, rapture led to rupture. Thankfully, you can’t actually laugh your head off, but you can laugh until you wet yourself, called “giggle incontinence” in the medical literature—it’s actually quite common in women, and no laughing matter.

So, the next time you’re in the theater, should you choose the comedy over the tear-jerker? Not necessarily. If you take people with latex allergy and have them watch a weather video versus a heart-warming drama, viewing the weather information video did not cause emotion with tears, and 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, to improve allergies laughing works, crying works. I laughed, I cried; it was better than Cats— especially if you have a cat allergy. Anything else you can do? Kissing! There’s actually a whole science of kissing, which sounds 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 allergies, 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, whereas, if you just have them hug for a half-hour instead – no benefit. Bottomline, kissing significantly reduced allergic responses in patients with both allergic rhinitis (runny nose, itchy eyes) or allergic dermatitis. 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 be easy to get people to sign up for the study, but this was done in Japan where, evidently, they do not kiss habitually. The follow-up study, which found similar benefit for an action of love that was even more direct, was also performed by researchers for whom English may not be their primary language, as evidenced by their speculation about females having more, “organisms.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

The study I explored about how listening to Mozart can reduce allergic reactions reminded me of a similar study on humor. Took a bunch of people with dust mite allergies; half watched Charlie Chaplin; half watched the weather channel. Then, they injected them with dust mite poop, and the allergic response was significantly reduced after viewing the humorous video for a matter of hours, suggesting that the induction of laughter may play some role in alleviating allergic diseases. But, might it suppress our immune system too much?

No. Say we have people watch a comedian for an hour, and their natural killer cell activity goes up, compared to watching nothing. And, their white blood count goes up, the number of immune cells in their bloodstream, the level of immune-boosting interferon goes up and stays up the next day, and the same with antibody production; pumping out more antibodies because yesterday you saw some video. So, humor seems to offer the best of both worlds at preventing the over reactive allergic response while boosting immune protection.

But, you actually have to laugh. The more you laugh, the better your natural killer cell activity gets, but exposure to a humorous video alone did not significantly affect immune function. Those that didn’t laugh—maybe because it was a Bill Cosby video, did not benefit, reinforcing that it is not the funny video that improved immune function, but our laughter in response. Because of the role natural killer cells play in viral illness and various types of cancer, the ability to significantly increase their activity in a brief period of time using a noninvasive 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 risk, or almost any risk. You’ve heard of side-splitting laughter? 67-year old woman attending laughter therapy sessions and evidently, rapture led to rupture. Thankfully, you can’t actually laugh your head off, but you can laugh until you wet yourself, called “giggle incontinence” in the medical literature—it’s actually quite common in women, and no laughing matter.

So, the next time you’re in the theater, should you choose the comedy over the tear-jerker? Not necessarily. If you take people with latex allergy and have them watch a weather video versus a heart-warming drama, viewing the weather information video did not cause emotion with tears, and 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, to improve allergies laughing works, crying works. I laughed, I cried; it was better than Cats— especially if you have a cat allergy. Anything else you can do? Kissing! There’s actually a whole science of kissing, which sounds 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 allergies, 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, whereas, if you just have them hug for a half-hour instead – no benefit. Bottomline, kissing significantly reduced allergic responses in patients with both allergic rhinitis (runny nose, itchy eyes) or allergic dermatitis. 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 be easy to get people to sign up for the study, but this was done in Japan where, evidently, they do not kiss habitually. The follow-up study, which found similar benefit for an action of love that was even more direct, was also performed by researchers for whom English may not be their primary language, as evidenced by their speculation about females having more, “organisms.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Gesundheit! Institute.

Doctor's Note

Did I say “Mozart study”? I had fun with that 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 papers 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 recently helped the Lifestyle Medicine Foundation develop LifestyleFacts.org.

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

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