Laughter really is the best medicine? In many ways, that’s no joke

(photo by Domenic Bahmann for The Washington Post)

Below is an excerpt from Laughter really is the best medicine? In many ways, that’s no joke, written by Marlene Cimons for the Washington Post.

“When people are funny, they attract other people, and community connectedness is the social currency for longevity,” says Edward Creagan, professor of medical oncology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. “Nobody wants to be around negative, whiny people. It’s a drain. We’re attracted to funny people.”

That old cliche about laughter being the best medicine, as with many cliches, is probably grounded in truth. The psychological effects of laughter are obvious, but it may bring physiological benefits as well. Moreover, it’s free and has no bad side effects.

Laughter stimulates the body’s organs by increasing oxygen intake to the heart, lungs and muscles, and stimulates the brain to release more endorphins, according to the Mayo Clinic. It also helps people handle stress by easing tension, relaxing the muscles and lowering blood pressure. It relieves pain, and improves mood. Laughter also strengthens the immune system.

“When we laugh, it decreases the level of the evil stress hormone cortisol,” Creagan says. “When we are stressed, it goes high and this interferes with the parts of the brain that regulate emotions. When that happens, the immune system deteriorates and becomes washed in a sea of inflammation, which is a factor in heart disease, cancer and dementia. Cortisol interferes with the body’s immune system, putting us at risk for these three groups of diseases.”

For sick people, laughter can distract from pain and provide them with a sense of control when they otherwise might feel powerless, experts say. Moreover, it’s often the patients themselves who crack the jokes.

“Some of the funniest patients I have ever met were those dying of cancer or struggling with alcoholism,” Creagan says.

One woman with breast cancer Creagan treated for 15 years still was making jokes as she neared death. During her final visit, she asked the doctor how much time she had left.

“I asked her why this was important to her right now,” Creagan recalls. “She said: ‘I can max out all my husband’s credit cards, so there’ll be nothing left for the second wife.’ I think she got all those extra quality years because she was funny.”

Read complete article.

Ed Creagan, MD is a medical oncologist and hospice and palliative care specialist who practiced at the Mayo Clinic for more than forty Minnesota winters. Invite him to keynote your next event.