Laughter: God's Rx

Debbi Migit  ·  Oct 30, 2017

In Proverbs 17:22 we are told, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Nehemiah 8:10 says, “... the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Modern science is confirming what the Bible has always told us. Laughter is good for what ails you. 

Dr. Lee Berk is a pioneer in the study of the benefits of laughter. The type of laughter that Berk and his team studied is specific. Mirthful laughter that arises from happiness is very distinct from the kind of laughter that often accompanies emotions such as embarrassment and anxiety. This research covers a broad range of biology: endocrinology, immunology, psychobiology, neurology, and genetics.

Diabetes

Dr. Berk teamed up with Dr. Stanley Tan, an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist, to study the effects of laughter on high-risk diabetic patients with high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. A control group received standard medications while an experimental group watched thirty minutes of humorous videos every day in addition to the medications.

At the end of the study, the experimental group showed significant improvement in cholesterol and inflammation levels. The researchers concluded that mirthful laughter may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Dr. Berk states, “Our findings lead us to believe that by seeking out positive experiences that make us laugh we can do a lot with our physiology to stay well.”

Heart health

Cardiologists at the University of Maryland agree. “The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,” says Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.

“The ability to laugh, either naturally or as learned behavior, may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer.”

Increased immunity

Just the physical act of a belly laugh can move the diaphragm and improve lymphatic circulation, which can boost immunity. The increased flow of lymphatic fluid means that more lymphocytes—natural killer cells—are produced, resulting in better immunity toward all diseases, especially cancer. When we enjoy mirthful laughter, our stress hormones decrease, while immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies increase, helping to protect us from bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Pain control

In 1964, Norman Cousins was diagnosed with a deadly disease that caused arthritis in his spine. He was told that he had a one in 500 chance of survival and to “get his affairs in order.” Instead, Cousins began a daily regimen of laughter, watching funny movies and clips from the television show Candid Camera. He wrote a best-selling book, An Anatomy of an Illness, a groundbreaking account of using humor to combat illness. He survived an additional 26 years.

One of the benefits that Cousins found in laughter was that it relieved his pain. He says, “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. 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.”

Anti-aging

Exposing Alzheimer’s patients to “humor therapy” appears as effective as drugs in reducing the agitation that often plagues those struggling with dementia, new Australian research suggests. Laughter also raises DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) levels, which is a marker of health in the body.  Normally, DHEA declines with age, taking with it the powerful anti-aging, anti-cancer, and anti-obesity properties it carries. Mental acuity is also enhanced by increased DHEA.

Stress relief

It is well-known that stress has a powerful, detrimental effect on our health. When we are stressed, our bodies produce cortisol and adrenalin, triggered by our natural “flight or fight response.” Laughter reduces these chemicals, while raising endorphins, serotonin, and a host of other beneficial substances. Once again, Dr. Berk and his team studied the effects of laughter—this time measuring how it affects our stress hormones. Thirty minutes after patients watched humorous videos, cortisol was down 67 percent, adrenaline was down 35 percent, and DOPAC was down 69 percent.

Laughter therapy

Today many hospitals are offering the therapy of laughter to their patients. North Kansas City Hospital designed project PHIL (Positive, Hopeful, Individuals Laughing) as a supplement to other medical treatments. One testimony came from the daughter of a patient, who said, “My seventy-five-year-old father went from complaining about pain to enjoying himself and feeling like the road to recovery is much shorter.”

At the Cancer Center Treatment of America, Dr. Katherine Puckett introduced “Laughter Club,” where patients and their families can reap the therapeutic benefits of laughing together. Dr. Puckett says that, just recently, the 8-year-old daughter of a patient who attended Laughter Club said afterwards, “I never thought about laughing every day, but now I realize I can. Like even when I don’t feel happy, I can still laugh and feel better.”

God’s design

Psalm 139:14 says, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.”

God has designed us with the unique ability to laugh, even when circumstances don’t seem to warrant it. In Job 8:21, we are told, “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting.’

Charles Spurgeon was known for his love of humor. He wrote, “I do believe, in my heart, that there may be as much holiness in a laugh as in a cry; and that, sometimes, to laugh is the better thing of the two, for I may weep, and be murmuring, and repining, and thinking all sorts of bitter thoughts against God; while, at another time, I may laugh the laugh of sarcasm against sin, and so evince a holy earnestness in the defense of the truth. I do not know why ridicule is to be given up to Satan as a weapon to be used against us, and not to be employed by us as a weapon against him.”

Laughter is a gift from God that can bring healing to our bodies and souls. In fact, it is prescribed in Ecclesiastes 8:15, which says, “I commend mirth.”

Now that’s good medicine!