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Laughter and Heart Disease

April 17, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

May 3rd, 2009 is World Laughter Day. Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to mention something like that. But I feel it’s especially relevant to do just that today. You see laughter is no longer simply the domain of clowns and stand up comedians. These days, scientists want in on the hilarity as well, and are focusing on the very serious side of humor in promoting heart health.

The results of the following study will be presented at the 122nd Annual Meeting of the American Physiological Society this weekend. The experiment itself is a fascinating example of the power of integrative medicine.

The Benefits of Laughter

Twenty diabetics with both high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol were enrolled in the trial. The participants were split into two groups. Both groups were given medications to address their diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol). Half of the patients were exposed to laughter therapy. The remainder only received the prescribed medications. All of the volunteers were followed for 12 months and had periodic blood tests to determine the status of their heart health, inflammation and stress hormone levels.

The results of the study were impressive and irrefutable. Here’s a brief overview of what the scientists found:

  • The patients that engaged in regular laughter therapy (consisting of 30 minute “self-selected humor” sessions) had lower levels of stress hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine) in their blood.
  • The laughter group also exhibited significantly lower inflammatory markers in the body. In particular there was 66% reduction in C-reactive proteins (as compared to only a 26% reduction in the medication-only group).
  • In addition there was a 26% rise in HDL (“good”) cholesterol in the laughers. The medication-only group had a much smaller 3% increase in HDL levels.

All of the changes noted in the laughter group are strongly associated with a reduction in heart disease risk. Dr. Lee Berk, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunologist, offered these concluding remarks, “the best clinicians understand that there is an intrinsic physiological intervention brought about by positive emotions such as mirthful laughter, optimism and hope. Lifestyle choices have a significant impact on health and disease.”

Laughter ClubsAnother study that was published in February 2009 adds to the established benefits of laughter on cardiovascular health. In that trial, 18 healthy adults were asked to watch two 30 minute segments of either a laughter or stress provoking film. Testing was conducting to determine changes in circulation and stress hormone levels.

The researchers determined that laughter improved circulation by lessening arterial stiffness and lowered stress hormone levels. It’s well established that hardening of the arteries is implicated in both heart attacks and strokes.

In 2006 a separate experiment found similar results. Twenty healthy adults were asked to watch a portion of a stressful film, such as the opening sequences of Saving Private Ryan. 48 hours later, they watched part of a comedic film, such as There’s Something About Mary. The researchers tested the volunteers’ blood flow prior to and after exposure to each type of film. Here’s what they found:

  • 14 of 20 volunteers showed dramatically worse circulation (-47%) after watching the stressful film footage.
  • 19 of 20 volunteers who viewed the comedic films demonstrated a 15% improvement in circulation (as measured by brachial artery flow mediated vasodilatation).

This is serious medicine in the form of a joyful and playful activity. Almost every one of us can utilize laughter to improve our mental and physiological states. It’s completely free of charge and, best of all, it’s contagious. The next time you cause someone else to laugh, you can feel even better knowing that good health has been enhanced by sharing a good chuckle.

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Heart Health, Mental Health

9 Comments & Updates to “Laughter and Heart Disease”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Good to know, I laugh a lot. I would even laugh more if my teeth looked nice. 🙂

  2. JP Says:

    Good! Keep laughing! It’s not about your teeth … it’s about your heart! 🙂

    Be well!


  3. Cyndi D'Auria Says:

    I have at least thirty minutes and miore each day of laughing.
    Laughing makes me feel great and also makes the person/s you are amusing luagh as well..
    Yes I do believe it is the best medicine…

    “it is better to play in the happy hay, than stay in the bitter barn”
    Excellent article JP …Thank you,

  4. JP Says:

    More people should follow your lead, Cyndi. Myself included! Keep laughing! 🙂

    Be well!


  5. BlueLexa Says:

    The article is good except for the fact that you are summarizing a study or studies as a matter of fact, yet you did not state the authors and researchers of the study or the article it was taken from :(.

  6. JP Says:


    Thank you for your kind comment and valuable observation. Originally, I posted three links to the research in question. Unfortunately, two of the three URLs have changed since I posted the blog. I’ve fixed that issue by updating the URLs. So, if you click on the links now they should take you to the source material. The links can be identified by the blue words, “the study”, “Another study” and “a separate experiment”.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Update 04/28/15:


    The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. April 2015, 21(4): 217-222.

    The Effects of Laughter Therapy on Mood State and Self-Esteem in Cancer Patients Undergoing Radiation Therapy: A Randomized Controlled Trial

    Background: To investigate whether laughter therapy lowers total mood disturbance scores and improves self-esteem scores in patients with cancer.

    Design/Setting: Randomized controlled trial in a radio-oncology outpatient setting.

    Patients: Sixty-two patients were enrolled and randomly assigned to the experimental group (n=33) or the wait list control group (n=29).

    Interventions: Three laughter therapy sessions lasting 60 minutes each.

    Outcome measures: Mood state and self-esteem.

    Results: The intention-to-treat analysis revealed a significant main effect of group: Experimental group participants reported a 14.12-point reduction in total mood disturbance, while the wait list control group showed a 1.21-point reduction (p=0.001). The per-protocol analysis showed a significant main effect of group: The experimental group reported a 18.86-point decrease in total mood disturbance, while controls showed a 0.19-point reduction (p<0.001). The self-esteem of experimental group was significantly greater than that of the wait list control group (p=0.044).

    Conclusions: These results indicate that laughter therapy can improve mood state and self-esteem and can be a beneficial, noninvasive intervention for patients with cancer in clinical settings.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Update 05/18/15:


    J Korean Acad Nurs. 2015 Apr;45(2):221-30.

    Effect and Path Analysis of Laughter Therapy on Serotonin, Depression and Quality of Life in Middle-aged Women.

    PURPOSE: This study was done to examine how laughter therapy impacts serotonin levels, QOL and depression in middle-aged women and to perform a path analysis for verification of the effects.

    METHODS: A quasi-experimental study employing a nonequivalent control group and pre-post design was conducted. Participants were 64 middle-aged women (control=14 and experimental=50 in 3 groups according to level of depression). The intervention was conducted five times a week for a period of 2 weeks and the data analysis was conducted using repeated measures ANOVA, ANCOVA and LISREL.

    RESULTS: Results showed that pre serotonin and QOL in women with severe depression were the lowest. Serotonin in the experimental groups increased after the 10th intervention (p=.006) and the rise was the highest in the group with severe depression (p=.001). Depression in all groups decreased after the 5th intervention (p=.022) and the biggest decline was observed in group with severe depression (p=.007). QOL of the moderate and severe groups increased after the 10th intervention (p=.049), and the increase rate was highest in group with severe depression (p<.006). Path analysis revealed that laughter therapy did not directly affect depression, but its effect was indirectly meditated through serotonin variation (p<.001). CONCLUSION: Results indicate that serotonin activation through laughter therapy can help middle-aged women by lessening depression and providing important grounds for depression control. Be well! JP

  9. JP Says:

    Update 05/31/15:


    Altern Ther Health Med. 2015 May;21(3):16-25.

    Humors Effect on Short-term Memory in Healthy and Diabetic Older Adults.

    Context • With aging, the detrimental effects of stress can impair a person’s ability to learn and sustain memory. Humor and its associated mirthful laughter can reduce stress by decreasing the hormone cortisol. Chronic release of cortisol can damage hippocampal neurons, leading to impairment of learning and memory.

    Objectives • The study intended to examine the effect of watching a humor video on short-term memory in older adults.

    Design • The research team designed a randomized, controlled trial.

    Setting • The study took place at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, CA, USA. Participants • The study included 30 participants: 20 normal, healthy, older adults-11 males and 9 females-and 10 older adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM)-6 males and 4 females.

    Intervention • The study included 2 intervention groups of older adults who viewed humorous videos, a healthy group (humor group), aged 69.9 ± 3.7 y, and the diabetic group, aged 67.1 ± 3.8 y. Each participant selected 1 of 2 humorous videos that were 20 min in length, either a Red Skeleton comedy or a montage of America’s Funniest Home Videos. The control group, aged 68.7 ± 5.5 y, did not watch a humor video and sat in quiescence.

    Outcome Measures • A standardized, neuropsychological, memory-assessment tool, the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), was used to assess the following abilities: (1) learning, (2) recall, and (3) visual recognition. The testing occurred twice, once before (RAVLT1) and once after (RAVLT2) the humorous video for the humor and diabetic groups, and once before (RAVLT1) and once after (RAVLT2) the period of quiescence for the control group. At 5 time points, measurements of salivary cortisol were also obtained. The Kruskal-Wallis test was used to measure significance of the data based on the 3 groups.

    Results • In the humor, diabetic, and control groups, (1) learning ability improved by 38.5%, 33.4%, and 24.0%, respectively (P = .025); (2) delayed recall improved by 43.6%, 48.1%, and 20.3%, respectively (P = .064); and (3) visual recognition increased by 12.6%, 16.7%, and 8.3%, respectively (P = .321). For levels of salivary cortisol, the research team found significant and borderline decreases for the humor group between baseline and (1) post-RAVLT1 (P = .047), (2) postvideo (P = .046), and (3) post-RAVLT2 (P = .062). The diabetic group showed significant decreases between baseline and (1) post-RAVLT1 (P = .047), (2) postvideo (P = .025), and (3) post-RAVLT2 (P = .034). The study found no significant changes for the control group.

    Conclusion • The research findings supported potential clinical and rehabilitative benefits for humor that can be applied to whole-person wellness programs for older adults. The cognitive components-learning ability and delayed recall-become more challenging as individuals age and are essential to older adults for providing a high quality of life: mind, body, and spirit. Because older adults can experience age-related memory deficits, complementary, enjoyable, and beneficial humor therapies should be implemented for them.

    Be well!


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