Friday, December 20, 2013

Is Laughing Really All That Good for You?

Norman Cousins, the now-departed former editor of The Saturday Evening Post magazine, was an incredible proponent of laughter and its healing powers. He, of course, had used it to bolster his failing health after he experienced heart disease. Following, possibly, the example of famed scientist Linus Pauling who advocated the use of high doses of Vitamin C, he began to use that supplement plus something he discovered on his own; the power of laughter.

Laughter, according to Cousins, was an incredibly useful tool that medicine had failed to appreciate and it was this belief that led him to incorporate massive doses of comedy videos into his daily routine. At one point, he credited the Marx Brothers’ films with his improved health and encouraged everyone to follow his example. His philosophy appeared to have enough credibility (without prior sufficient requisite research, however) that Cousins began to both write about laughter and its use in illness as well as join the faculty of the School of Medicine at UCLA. His books include Anatomy of an Illness: As perceived by the patient and Human Options: An Autobiographical Notebook. 

He has been quoted ( Cousins) as follows:

"I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep," he reported. "When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval."

Now, as it always happens, there’s an article in a scholarly review British medical journal that looks at the other side of laughter and outlines the possible side effects of laughter, if we can say it has “side effects.” What do they point out these party poopers? Yeah, you can dislocate your jaw, but tell me who and how many people have ever done this? Sounds like a stretch to me.

What about bringing on asthma attacks? Yes, so does exercise and yet we know that exercise is very important to maintenance of physical and mental health. It may even improve your immune system’s strength.

Then, of course, there is that embarrassing little matter of “giggle incontinence” and that’s got to be considered. Which is better; knowing how to contain your laughter or, for women, possible exercises that can help control these muscles?

No small task this review because they looked at 5000 studies and it was published in the spirit of bringing a bit of whimsy to the holiday season. The article was intended to be tongue-in-cheek and to bring a smile to your face. One of my favorites mentioned in a brief overview of the article was one called “Operating room safety: The 10-point plan to safe flinging.” Surgeons were cautioned not to fling instruments about the operating room and to never fling one into the air.” Yes, there is humor in the OR.

The words of wisdom here are that “medical clowning” or laughter has its place in medicine and it should be seen as a viable treatment modality.