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Laughter and health



A good laugh is free and priceless - and you don't need a prescription, permission or an appointment for it. A few years ago, the editor and author of a medical bulletin claimed to have recovered from a severe arthritic disease just by watching the Marx Brothers movies. The book, which was born out of this experience, launched scientific research to link humor and health. But, has laughter been the best medicine?


If you enjoy irony (a perverse form of humor), you might be amused to learn that, after two decades of research, the answer is still no clearer. Here is a sampling of the findings: Japanese researchers observed that asthma patients experienced a certain calm when watching a comedy film, compared to one that was not. Laughing while watching funny videos would improve immunity, at least briefly, and boost the antioxidant power of saliva, other studies have found. You might have a greater tolerance for pain by watching something funny. Laughter might even burn a few calories.


People have been quick to tout humor as a self-healer, proclaiming its benefits in cases of heart disease and emotional stress, among other ailments. With anger having been shown to elevate the risk of heart disease, it only makes sense that good humor lowers it. However, studies cannot support this claim. Scientists have discovered the location in the brain of the center of humor: above the right eye in the frontal lobe, although this knowledge is of little practical use yet. As one review of studies pointed out, this is all too random; no conclusions can be drawn about the beneficial effects of laughter on health.


The sense of humor

Why not just have a sense of humor? To smile a lot? The idea that a happy outlook on life can improve or maintain health has a long history in religion and literature. There is definite evidence that constant optimism helps; it is a healthy personality trait. Even if there was nothing else, still expecting positive results can mean that you will take much better care of your health than if you believe that nothing good can happen to you.


It would be cruel to tell someone with a serious illness that laughter is a cure, or that watching the Marx Brothers is as effective as medical treatment. However, most people find the ability to laugh to be helpful in the face of adversity, and that a sense of humor, especially kind, can be an asset through life.