Published in the Lynn Haven Ledger, April 2011
Laughter Really is the Best Medicine Article by: Jennifer Clark, PA-C, MPAS
n the 2001 children’s Pixar Film Monster Inc. the main character, Sulley, discovers that the energy derived from a child’s laughter was significantly more powerful than the energy acquired from their fear. While the story is fictional, its message certainly has some significant truth. How many times have we all heard the cliche: “Laughter is the best medicine”? With April being National Stress Awareness Month, it is the perfect time to address the truth in this timeless statement. Research derived from multiple studies has indicated that there is a significant relationship between emotion and the cardiovascular system. Negative emotions such as fear, anger, depression, and stress cause the vessels to constrict with increased blood flow while laughter has been shown to promote the release of nitric oxide (NO) which helps the vessels expand and contract appropriately in response to changes in blood flow. This also decreases inflammation within the blood vessel. This is demonstrated in a study conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center. Two random groups of individuals were evaluated before and after watching comical and dramatic movies. One group watched various clips of Saturday Night Live (SNL) while the other watched segments of the 1998 DreamWorks movie Saving Private Ryan. The examiners evaluated the participates with Brachial Artery Reactivity Testing (BART) which consisted of an ultrasound evaluation of the blood flow through the brachial artery. Interestingly, the BART evaluation of the group that watched Saving Private Ryan revealed a 35% decrease in the blood flow while the SNL group demonstrated a 22% increase in blood flow. Another study conducted by the American Academy of Cardiology revealed similar findings with a 20% improvement of blood flow with laughter. Not only does a hearty laugh help the vascular system, but it also helps our bodies in multiple ways. In addition to improved blood flow, laughter has been shown to help relax the muscles in the body for up to 45 minutes afterwards which can also help lower stress levels and physical tension! Laughing increases the release of endorphins (our body’s “feel good” chemicals) which help with pain relief and overall well -being. A good joke can also boost the immune system which in turn helps improve healing from illness and infection, and lowers stress hormones that can have a negative effect on multiple organ systems throughout the body. Lowering stress hormones also helps focus and relaxation. As we all know but often don’t realize, laughing also helps nurture our social relationships. By improving our connection with friends, family and coworkers we find fulfillment and self actualization. Dolly Parton may have said it best in the movie Steel Magnolias when she said “Laughter through tears is the best emotion.” So the next time you are feeling sad or stressed, take a moment to have a big laugh, and feel good about knowing you are helping your entire body, mind and soul.