LAUGHTER is the best medicine, not only according to popular belief but also based on scientific research.

According to Laughter: Let it Out, Be Healthy by Valerie Brett, a marketing media producer for Econosystems research firm, laughter is a constructive and powerful force that largely affects the human body. It was all along a built-in stress releaser, which improves a person’s health and well being.

Laughing out stress

In his research General Adaptation Syndrome, a model of stress, Dr. Hans Selye concluded that for a human body to survive, it must be able to adapt to a repeated stress it is exposed to. He divided his study into three stages: alarm phase, resistance phase, and exhaustion phase.

In the alarm phase, stress disturbs the body’s normal state. This stage may induce symptoms such as stiffness, reduced performance, and loss of muscular tone. In the resistance phase, the human body starts to adapt to the new condition it has acquired through the increase of hormone levels. The exhaustion phase, which is the last stage degrades the body’s energy and is often dangerous to extreme physical activities. In this phase, the person’s health suffers.

According to Dr. Joey Matro, a Physiology and Clinical Chemistry professor from the Faculty of Pharmacy, the body has its own compensatory mechanisms such as blood vessel constriction and slowed digestion in response to the presence of stress caused by fatigue and tension. These mechanisms in turn cause signs and symptoms such as depression, heart failure, obsessive-compulsive and anxiety disorder, and ulcers.

But according to Matro, when a person laughs, the aforementioned symptoms are counteracted by laughter’s positive effects.

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“Laughter is classified under eustress, the positive type of stress. As the person laughs, distress, the bad type of stress brought about by tension and fatigue, drops,” Matro said.

The natural medicine

Matro says that laughter can stimulate the nervous and respiratory systems by decreasing the level of stress hormones and increasing neurotransmitter-stimuli responses. Thus, it can be a defense mechanism of the body against stress.

“When a person laughs, the body decreases the production of stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine, which are involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response, and growth hormones, thus increasing the production of antibody-producing cells, endorphins, and neurotransmitters,” he said.

These antibody-producing cells, endorphins, and neurotransmitters, produced and secreted during a hearty laugh, are in charge of the numerous health benefits the body may acquire when laughing.

Antibody-producing cells enable the enhancement of the T-cells, which are primarily responsible for strengthening the immune system and preventing diseases. Endorphins act as natural pain killers that reduce the discomfort and anxiety experienced during distress. Neurotransmitters act to increase the nerve impulses produced in the body, making it more alert and responsive, thus stimulating the central nervous system and reducing depression.

A study by Paul McGhee published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing last January 2000, examined 35 patients about to be subjected to surgery and painful medical administration due to traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, arthritis, limb amputations, and a range of neurological and musculoskeletal disorders, to prove that laughter can reduce the pain of the surgical procedures. The patients that were shown humorous movies before the surgery or medication experienced less pain than those who did not laugh before taking therapy.

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Norman Cousins, a prominent 20th century journalist and promoter of holistic healing, said in his book Anatomy of an Illness that laughter eased the back pain and headaches caused by a spinal disease, and that a 10-minute belly laughter would provide him two hours of pain-free sleep.

Bonus benefits

Aside from the relief from tension and fatigue, Matro says that additional advantages can be obtained through laughing. One is the capacity of the body to utilize more oxygen that cleanses the lungs, freeing it from carbon dioxide and other harmful gases that the body inhales. The neurotransmitters that are released when laughing also promote good memory retention because the nerve impulses react faster to stimuli.

“Laughter can stimulate the mind, makinvvg it more conducive for learning. This explains why it is easy to study when the body feels light and free of depression,” he said.

Matro added that a good laugh may be comparable to an internal body exercise because the different muscles in the body like the diaphragm, face muscles, abdomen, and heart work when a person laughs.

Moreover, laughter is also one way of removing a person’s focus on negative emotions such as anger, pressure from work, discouragement, and sadness. Matro says that laughter shifts a person’s view from negative to positive and that in modern medicine, alternative self-care tools such as laughter are deeply needed.

“As scientific studies regarding humor expand, the effectiveness of natural therapy is becoming an advantage to people, especially to Filipinos,” he said.

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