“Laughter is the best medicine!” That’s an old adage, maybe even dating back to the biblical era. The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament proposes that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” An intriguing concept! Is there any science behind it? It seems there is. The body and the mind are connected. And that is just what we are going to explore in this year’s “Trottier Public Science Symposium” with speakers Drs. Marla Shapiro, Amir Raz and Patch Adams. Let’s get you started with a little laughter right here.
Herman, an elderly gentleman is driving down the freeway when his cell phone rings. It’s his wife. “Herman, she says, be careful. I just heard on the radio that there’s a car on the freeway going the wrong way!” Hell, says Herman, “it’s not just one, it’s hundreds of them!” If you laughed at that, you probably feel better. That’s what laughter does to people. And we’re not only talking about improved mood. Numerous experiments have shown that laughter can affect the body’s physiology, reducing blood pressure, improving immune function and even reducing pain.
As an example, an experiment from Lee Berk at Loma Linda University, one of the world’s experts on the link between laughter and health, suggests even the anticipation of laughter can have therapeutic value. In other words, you can benefit if you just think you are going to hear or see something funny, even if you don’t actually do it. Berk enlisted 16 healthy men who were asked to select a funny video they would like to watch. Half the men were then told that three days later they would watch the video while the others would sit in a waiting room. Blood was drawn at the beginning, then just before the video watching experiment began, during the watching and waiting and after the experiment. The blood taken from the experimental subjects just before watching the video had 27% more beta endorphins and 87% more human growth hormone! Now that is interesting because these compounds have important physiological functions.
Endorphins are the body’s natural pain killers and human growth hormone has been associated with anti-aging effects. Growth hormone is secreted during teen and young adult years and stimulates the buildup of lean muscle mass and strength. Wouldn’t it be something if we could increase growth hormone just by anticipating laughing? The nice thing about anticipation is that you reap the benefits even if the event turns out to be dissapointing. We have all gone to many a comedy show with great anticipitation and came away thinking, how could anybody think this was funny? Of course if the show is funny, (Seinfeld never dissapoints) then you get the bonus of extra endorphins and growth hormone being produced during the performance.
So now, here’s joke to make you feel better. Ah, but you don’t actually have to hear it, now that you are anticipating it, you already feel better! Ok. Here’s a bonus. A nameless American President was playing Trivial Pursuit and landed on a Science and Nature question. It said, “If you are in a vacuum and someone calls you rname, can you hear it?” He thought about this for a moment and asked, “is the vacuum on or off?” Those endorphins are probably cruising through your blood now!