IS LAUGHTER THE BEST MEDICINE?
Saturday, March 4,2000(HealthSCOUT) – Two California researchers
hope to find out if there is more than magic in a child’s
In the first study to focus on sick children and adolescents with
depressed immune systems, the researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson
Cancer Center will try to determine what effects laughter has on
pain and disease treatment.
“This is really the first type of research that really looks
at children in a scientific way and looks at biologic mechanisms
of action, “ says Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, a UCLA cancer researcher,
professor of Pediatrics and Anesthesiology, and director of the
Pediatric Pain Program at the University’s Mattel Children’s
Hospital. And associate director, Patients and Survivors Section,
Division of cancer prevention and control, Jonsson Cancer Center.
She will head up the five year “Rx Laughter” study,
which began in February, with Dr. Margaret Stuber, a cancer researcher,
child psychiarist and professor in the Psychiatry and Biobehavioral
Sciences Department at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institutute.
“What we’re hoping to find is that laughter can really
have a health benefit for children,” Stuber says.She notes
there is already significant evidence that emotion affects health.
“We know that stress has negative effects on health for both
adults and children. And we have indicates that laughter makes a
difference for adults,” Stuber says.
The study will be the first to focus on what makes healthy children
laugh. They’ll be shown classic cartoons, comedy movies and
television shows to see which ones produce loud laughs, grins or
smiles. “The act of laughter may have a very different affect
on the body than just finding something funny,” Zeltzer says.
The funniest shows will then be used to test physiological responses
in healthy children by measuring their heart rate and other biologic
functions as they laugh.
The final phase of the study will focus on showing young patients
with cancer and AIDS the funny shows and monitoring their stress
responses, including heart rate, blood pressure, palm sweats and
levels of cortisol,la stress-related hormone. The researchers will
look at the effect on various immune system factors.
If the laughter produces positive responses, the cartoons, TV shows
asnd movies could be incorporated into the treatment for ill children
to help them cope with the ordeal of treatment.
‘One of the things that’s been very frustrating to
me in my work is that there’s a huge body of scientific work
and literature about various ways we can help children get through
illness, procedures, etc., but most of those have been very person-intensive,
requiring 1-on-1 training of people in relaxation treatment and
so on,” Stuber says.
Because they are both well-known, published and respected scientists,
the two researchers say that their colleagues aren’t raising
any eyebrows about this study.
“If we tried to do this study even five years ago, it probably
would have had a lot more pooh-poohing than now,” Zeltzer
The idea for the “Rx Laughter” study was the brainchild
of UCLA graduate Sherry Dunay Hilber, an entertainment industry
executive, who had wondered about the physical and emotional impact
of laughter, and approached the researchers with her suggestion.
Part of the study’s funding is a $75,000 grant from the cable
TV network Comedy Central.
WHAT TO DO: Don’t worry, be happy. Feeling happy and optimistic
seems to be good for you in general. A new study from the Mayo Clinic
in Rochester, Minn., says optimistic people live about 19 percent
longer than pessimists. The report was published in the February
issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings and can be read at the Mayo
Clinic’s Web Site.
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