Like my previous post, which questioned the importance of breakfast, there is a lot of questioning in regards to the common sayings our society has. For instance, “is laughter really the best medicine?” This saying dates back thousands of years ago, and has been said to originate in the Bible within Proverbs 17:22, which states that “A joyful heart is good medicine.” Although I do believe that I feel both better and relieved of stress after a good laugh, this anecdote holds no scientific power. It is this personal correlation that peaks my interest, and leads me to delve further into the science behind laughter and mirth.
So, is laughter the best medicine? If so, in what ways?
When attempting to find information on laughter’s effects, we must first ask if laughter can cure or prevent disease, if we can rule out reverse causation, and if reported experiments can be due to chance or a confounding variable.
Laughter has been seen to positively affect cardiovascular indexes. In a study done by University of Maryland Medical Center, humor responses were studied in a group of 300 participants. Half the participants had previous heart conditions (heart attacks, or coronary artery bypass surgery) and the other were completely healthy, and were similar in age. The study was done to see if the healthy people, with less fat and cholesterol levels within their cardiovascular system, had different laughter patterns compared to the unhealthy group. Within the study, they each were asked how they would respond to seemingly humorous situations with various multiple choice and true and false questions. According to the results, those with heart conditions appeared to laugh less compared to the other group in up to 40 percent of the given scenarios and questions. Because this experiment was conducted as such a large test, with 300 participants, it is given credibility. So… laughing helps the heart?
Laughing, as I personally feel, is believed to have a positive effect on stress levels. But I always wondered why would it effect my stress level… shouldn’t my stress be low when I am already in a positive mood since I am laughing? We look to natural killer cells, which are cells linked to the immune system. Given previous research, low natural killer cell activity is correlated with low disease resistance and has been known to worsen symptoms in patients with cancer and HIV. Laughter and mirth are thought to be beneficial to natural killer cell activity, assisting our cognitive behavior.
In another study completed at the Indiana State University Sycamore Nursing Center, two groups of women were divided into a treatment group and control group. The participants in each group were given questionnaires to assess their stress levels, both before and after the test. They were then compared in terms of blood tests regarding their natural killer cell levels based on the answers. The experiment was relatively small, as only 33 women participants were subject to the experiment. The tested treatment group watched a comical video, since the belief that laughter is based off of our sense of humor and comedy is accepted, while the other control group viewed a general video displaying tourism, which had no accepted comedic components. In result, the treatment group with the humorous video had self-reported that they had less stress after watching the video, which correlated to their higher scores on the questionnaire and higher number of natural kill cells compared to the control group. Out of this study, it was concluded that laughter may actually reduce stress!
However, there may be many confounding variables, such as a person’s given different sense of humor or ability to find humor out of given questions. The studies also do not rule out reverse causation, as a person whom has disease/disability may, as a result of illness, have a negative mood and could therefore be less open to laughter.
However, assuming that the studies’ methods are acceptable, their conclusions show that medicine does help positively affect one’s health, and could possibly help in more ways than these! We cannot conclude that laughter is the “best” medicine, as it has no mechanism for answering a problem (disease), for example it is no vaccine. We can, however, conclude that is good for you. I for one, love to laugh, and now knowing that it is even beneficial to my health to enjoy and find humor in situations, I am more motivated to live life to the fullest.