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Patients, doctors and health-care professionals are all finding that laughter may indeed be the best medicine. Finding humor in a situation and laughing freely with others can be a powerful antidote to stress. It is also a very good coping mechanism when you are suffering from deadly diseases such as cancer. Many people find that maintaining a sense of humor at such occasions are useful for good quality of life. Our sense of humor gives us the ability to find delight, experience joy, and to release tension. This can be an effective self-care tool. Scientific evidence on the effectiveness of humor as a therapy is now overwhelming.

For many years medical professionals have recognized that those patients who maintained a positive mental attitude and shared laughter responded better to treatment. Physiological responses to laughter include increased respiration, circulation, hormonal and digestive enzyme secretion, and a leveling of the blood pressure. Many report a general sense of euphoria after vigorous laughter. But until the New England Journal of Medicine in 1979 published the Norman Cousins case study, few considered the therapeutic uses of humor.

The first documented case of humor positively affecting disease was in 1964 when Norman Cousins, published "Anatomy of an Illness". Medical professionals were for the first shown that humor biologically reversed Cousins' ankylosing spondylitis, a painful disease causing the disintegration of the spinal connective tissue. Given a one in five hundred chance of recovery, Cousins decided to infuse himself with humor treatments. With Cousins' self-designed humor treatments, he found that 15 minutes of hardy laughter could produce two hours of pain free sleep. Blood samples also showed that his inflammation level was lowered after the humor treatments. Eventually Cousins was able to completely reverse the illness. Cousins later documented his story in a book he called "Anatomy Of an Illness."

Today, interest in humor's effects has grown so much that the field has a name -- psychoneuroimmunology, the study of how psychological factors, the brain and the immune system interact to influence health.

"If you took what we now know about the capability of laughter to manipulate the immune system, and bottled it, it would need FDA approval," Dr. Lee Berk, a preventive care clinician, medical research scientist, psychoneuroimmunologist, and professor at LLU's Schools of Medicine and Public Health

Next: Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter

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