By Margarita Nahapetyan
Laughter could be a new priceless medicine for diabetic patients to improve their levels of cholesterol and possibly lower their risk of heart attack, according to findings of a new, but very small study by U.S. scientists.
Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunologist, of Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, has carried out the research in collaboration with Stanley Tan, MD, PhD., an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Oak Crest Health Research Institute, Loma Linda, CA, to examine the effect of "mirthful laughter" on people with diabetes and found that laughter could have actual heart benefits for such patients.
For the study, the investigators involved 20 men and women, all type 2 diabetes patients who have also been taking standard medication for high blood pressure (hypertension) and high levels of cholesterol (hyperlipidemia), a risk factor for heart disease. All the participants have been assigned to two groups: control group (group C), and laughter group (group L). The average age of participants was 50 years old.
Diabetics in group L were asked to self-select a funny video to watch for at least 30 minutes a day. Self-selected humor, Berk explained, meant that the participants in laughter group could choose on their own whatever they thought would make them laugh from TV shows, sitcoms and funny movies. "We could/should not determine what was 'funny' for them," he said. The laughter group patients got into it, Berk said, and were faithful to the minimum exposure to humor time of half an hour on a daily basis for a period of one year.
After a 12-month follow-up, the experts evaluated the patients in both groups by tests such as measuring cholesterol levels and levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation thought to be linked to cardiovascular disease. They found that HDL cholesterol levels (the good kind) had increased by 26 per cent in the laughter group patients, but only by 3 per cent in the control group. Similarly, after four months into the study, harmful C-reactive proteins, decreased by 66 per cent in the L group patients, but only by 26 per cent in the control group. Both differences were statistically significant, Berk said.
According to the researchers, the secret of this phenomenon is pretty simple. They suggest that by adding a mirthful laughter - a potential modulator of positive mood state - to standard diabetes, people are decreasing the bad chemicals in the body and increasing the good chemicals, which help them feel good and stay well. The authors conclude that mirthful laughter may thus lower the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome.
An earlier research by Dr. Berk has shown that laughing out loud at funny movies can be very beneficial for health, and increase circulation as much as physical activity or even taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. Even just an expectation of watching a comedy video was enough to increase levels of feel-good endorphins and boost amounts of a hormone that helps our immune system fight infection. On the contrary, watching movies that cause tears and sad emotions, has the opposite effect, reducing blood flow to the heart. "The best clinicians understand that there is an intrinsic physiological intervention brought on by positive emotions like mirthful laughter, optimism and hope," Dr. Berk concluded.
The results will be presented this month in New Orleans at the American Physiological Society's annual meeting, which is part of Experimental Biology 2009.