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Laughter and Crying as (Immunity) Medicine

Dean Pomerleau

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Keeping one's immune system healthy is important for everyone, but this is especially true for CR practitioners. Anecdotally we appear to have a very competent immune system, and this has been shown to be true clinically in early stage anorexics. But at the same time we have fewer metabolic reserves to fight off infections if/when we do get sick. With that background, Dr. Greger has an amusing and informative video out today on the impact of various social behaviors on immune system function. 


It turns out that laughing (or crying) as a result of watching funny (or sad) videos boosts immune system response for at least 24 hours. But you actually have to laugh or cry to get the effect; just watching the video doesn't cut it. What's more, kissing and sex also work to improve allergic responses in people with allergies.


I've found that CR has had a tempering influence on both my positive and negative affective states (to put it rather clinically), so I don't find these insights to be too personally relevant, but they are interesting nonetheless.


I've included the transcript and references (with links) below, for people who hate watching videos. :)xyz





Transcript: Laughter as Medicine


The study I explored about how listening to Mozart can reduce allergic reactions reminded me of a similar study on humor. Took a bunch of people with dust mite allergies; half watched Charlie Chaplin; half watched the weather channel. Then, they injected them with dust mite poop, and the allergic response was significantly reduced after viewing the humorous video for a matter of hours, suggesting that the induction of laughter may play some role in alleviating allergic diseases. But, might it suppress our immune system too much?


No. Say we have people watch a comedian for an hour, and their natural killer cell activity goes up, compared to watching nothing. And, their white blood count goes up, the number of immune cells in their bloodstream, the level of immune-boosting interferon goes up and stays up the next day, and the same with antibody production; pumping out more antibodies because yesterday you saw some video. So, humor seems to offer the best of both worlds at preventing the over reactive allergic response while boosting immune protection.


But, you actually have to laugh. The more you laugh, the better your natural killer cell activity gets, but exposure to a humorous video alone did not significantly affect immune function. Those that didn’t laugh—maybe because it was a Bill Cosby video, did not benefit, reinforcing that it is not the funny video that improved immune function, but our laughter in response. Because of the role natural killer cells play in viral illness and various types of cancer, the ability to significantly increase their activity in a brief period of time using a noninvasive method could be clinically important the next time you have a cold or cancer.


Laughter, like music or healthy food, offers potential benefits without any risk, or almost any risk. You’ve heard of side-splitting laughter? 67-year old woman attending laughter therapy sessions and evidently, rapture led to rupture. Thankfully, you can’t actually laugh your head off, but you can laugh until you wet yourself, called "giggle incontinence" in the medical literature—it's actually quite common in women, and no laughing matter.


So, the next time you’re in the theater, should you choose the comedy over the tear-jerker? Not necessarily. If you take people with latex allergy and have them watch a weather video versus a heart-warming drama, viewing the weather information video did not cause emotion with tears, and it failed to modulate allergic responses. The tear-jerker, however, successfully reduced the allergic response, but only in those whose tears were actually jerked.


So, to improve allergies laughing works, crying works. I laughed, I cried; it was better than Cats— especially if you have a cat allergy. Anything else you can do? Kissing! There’s actually a whole science of kissing, which sounds a pleasant enough college major, until you realize it’s about all the diseases you can get. But, if you take people with seasonal pollen allergies, or dust mite allergies, and have them kiss someone in a room for 30 minutes, they have a significant reduction in their allergic reactions, for both the pollen and the dust mites, whereas, if you just have them hug for a half-hour instead - no benefit. Bottomline, kissing significantly reduced allergic responses in patients with both allergic rhinitis (runny nose, itchy eyes) or allergic dermatitis. Collectively, these findings indicate that the direct action of love may be beneficial, though evidently cuddling wasn’t quite direct enough.


With all the side-effects of antihistamine drugs, you’d think it would be easy to get people to sign up for the study, but this was done in Japan where, evidently, they do not kiss habitually. The follow-up study, which found similar benefit for an action of love that was even more direct, was also performed by researchers for whom English may not be their primary language, as evidenced by their speculation about females having more, “organisms.”


Video Sources


H Kimata. Listening to mozart reduces allergic skin wheal responses and in vitro allergen-specific IgE production in atopic dermatitis patients with latex allergy. Behav Med. 2003 Spring;29(1):15-9.


H Kimata. Effect of humor on allergen-induced wheal reactions. JAMA. 2001 Feb 14;285(6):738.


L S Berk, S A Tan, W F Fry, B J Napier, J W Lee, R W Hubbard, J E Lewis, W C Eby. Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. Am J Med Sci. 1989 Dec;298(6):390-6.


L S Berk, D L Felten, S A Tan, B B Bittman, J Westengard. Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001 Mar;7(2):62-72, 74-6.


M P Bennett, J M Zeller, L Rosenberg, J McCann. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45.


H Sharma, N S Shekhawat, S Bhandari, Breda Memon, M A Memon. Rectus sheath haematoma: a rare presentation of non‐contact strenuous exercises. Br J Sports Med. 2007 Oct; 41(10): 688–690.


M P Rogers, R F Gittes, D M Dawson, P Reich. Giggle incontinence. JAMA. 1982 Mar 12;247(10):1446-8.


H Kimata. Emotion with tears decreases allergic responses to latex in atopic eczema patients with latex allergy. J Psychosom Res. 2006 Jul;61(1):67-9.


H Kimata. Kissing reduces allergic skin wheal responses and plasma neurotrophin levels. Physiol Behav. 2003 Nov;80(2-3):395-8.


L Z G Touyz. Kissing and hpv: honest popular visions, the human papilloma virus, and cancers. Curr Oncol. 2014 Jun; 21(3): e515–e517.


J S Alpert. Philematology: the science of kissing. A message for the marital month of june. Am J Med. 2013 Jun;126(6):466.

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