For The Healing Of My Son’s Asthma
The Healing Power of Laughter
By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
“Laughter is part of the human survival kit.”- Comedian David Nathan
You’ve probably heard someone say “laughter is the best medicine.” Maybe you were feeling sad, disappointed, angry, or hurt, and a friend or family member tried to cheer you up by taking you to see a funny movie or telling a silly joke.
Perhaps they managed to tickle you your funk so that you could once again appreciate the simple and beautiful aspects about everyday life and experience gratitude for all that you have.
With an uncontrollable smile and laughter escaping your lips, you probably agreed that there’s definitely something to the adage about laughter.
The Patch Adams Prescription for Health
Hunter Campbell, M.D., the American physician whose life inspired the 1998 movie “Patch Adams,” took laughter therapy to a new level. In 1971, Dr.
Campbell and several others opened a free hospital in a six-bedroom home, a pilot health care facility through which thousands of patients received unique, humor-infused care over the next twelve years.
This hospital-home evolved into the Gesundheit Institute, a not for profit health care organization which currently offers volunteer programs humanitarian clowning trips to hospitals, orphanages, refugee camps and prisons, as well as educational programs designed to help medical students develop compassionate connections with their patients. “We’re trying to make compassion and generosity the center core of what medicine is,” says Campbell about the organization.Dr. Campbell’s ultimate goal, pending adequate financial support, is to open a free, full-scale hospital which offers allopathic and complimentary therapies, and inspires other medical facilities to move beyond traditional methodology.
Intending to increase engagement with life for both patients and staff, Dr. Campbell also envisions incorporating performing arts, crafts, nature, agriculture, recreation, and social service into this integrative facility.
For more information about the Gesundheit Institute, visit www.patchadams.org.
Laughter As Common Sense Medicine
“Hazardous to illness, humor leads to laughing, smiling, and good feelings” (Bakerman). It’s undeniable – both humor and laughter can make you feel good and take the edge off of seemingly difficult situations.
Humor is a great communication tool to relieve tension between people and facilitate relationship-building. As a coping mechanism, humor helps people diffuse difficult emotions such as anger, fear, grief, and sadness.
In hospital settings humor can help both patients and their families by giving everyone permission to laugh and relax.
Humor and/or laughter can also alleviate emotional stress, which enhances health by helping to prevent stress-related illness.
Remember that the sustained release of stress, or “fight or flight,” hormones can contribute significantly to hypertension, nervous system disorders, and other health complications.
Besides diminishing stress, humor and/or laughter can simply make us feel better and put us in good spirits.
Norman Cousins, an author, professor, and journalist, laughed his way the hospital many times. Cousins believed that the biochemistry of emotion was the key to combating illness. He used laughter (as well as mega-doses of Vitamin C) to fight his heart disease and help neutralize his incurable arthritic condition.
While laughter is well-accepted by the public as common-sense medicine, the exact physiological mechanisms through which humor / laughter enhance health are unknown.At this point, we can see the big picture of laughter as good medicine, and understand aspects of the physiology of humor and laughter, but don’t yet fully understand how all the pieces of the picture fit together, and maybe it’s just better this way.
To form any conclusions scientific evidence, though, more controlled research on the issue is necessary.
Humor vs. Laughter
We do know that it may not be humor, itself, which promotes health. Humor, is a cognitive stimulus which involves emotional, behavioral, psycho-physiological, and social aspects.
Laughter, on the other hand, is a psycho-physiological response, a common expression of a humorous experience which results in a positive psychological shift.
While humor alone can tickle your funny bone, the physical act of laughing has shown greater measurable physiological benefits in clinical studies, e.g. enhanced immune function.
Laughter, Nervous System Activity and Bioenergetic Psychotherapy
The case for “laughter being ‘healthier’ for you than humor” may be made by considering the positive effects laughter can have on the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system.
Laughter tends to reduce sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity while engendering softening, expanding, and relaxing parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity.
One possible explanation for increased PNS activity is that diaphragmatic movement may stimulate the nearby vagus nerve.
Not only does laughter help prevent SNS activity by assuaging emotional stress, but it also helps discharge aggressive, negative energy trapped as tension within the body as a result of past SNS over-activity.
According to Alexander Lowen, the father of bioenergetic psychotherapy, uncontrolled laughter creates convulsive reactions which free up muscular tension within the body, and charge and mobilize the voice and breathing.
Through release sessions, bioenergetic therapists try to facilitate anger, crying, and even laughing as a way of healing the body through the spontaneous release of energy.
In bioenergetic therapy circles, tension within the chest cavity is known as “armoring.” Release of this armoring, or previously locked in chronic defensive holding patterns, makes possible the redirection of freed energy and emotions toward healing the heart.Laughing can often lead to crying, the most healing modality for the cardiovascular system. laughing, crying induces endorphin release. Tear analysis also demonstrates that crying causes intricate hormonal reactions.
Laughter and other spontaneous emotional releases such as crying also promote respiration, and thus bring much needed oxygen to the heart.
Laughter’s Immune and Cardiovascular System Benefits
Other than making you simply feel more relaxed, connected to others, or just better, humor and laughter can create positive immune and cardiovascular system effects. Vigorous laughter can result in physiological changes that are similar to those achieved through moderate exercise.
Studies have shown that intense laughter can cause heart and respiratory rates to rise, as well as increased respiratory depth and oxygen consumption. Immediately following these changes are relaxed muscles and a corresponding decrease in respiratory rate, heart rate and blood pressure.
That being said, a b uncontrollable laughter is no substitute for regular, moderate exercise.
Laughter also positively affects hormones. By increasing endorphins, hormones which assuage the sympathetic nervous system, laughter facilitates a state of peace in the body. It also raises DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) levels.
Many researchers consider high levels of DHEA, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, a marker of health in the body.
Studies indicate that DHEA, which declines with age, has anti-aging, anti-cancer, and anti-obesity effects and can enhance mental abilities.
PNI and Richard Prior: Studies Show Watching Comedy Is Good for You
Some researchers explain funny-bone medicine through a psychoneuroimmunologic (PNI) lens; PNI is an emerging field exploring the nexuses between psycho-emotional states and the nervous and immune systems.
Some PNI enthusiasts have theorized that laughter improves immune function by decreasing stress hormones: epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol.
Since we have just recently started exploring the frontier of PNI, though, more research is necessary to conclusively determine why humor and/or laughter seem to boost immune system function.Though the exact mechanism of how laughter boosts immunity remains unclear, studies demonstrate that humor and/or laughter generate subtle biological changes which serve as markers of immune system activity. By exploring humor-induced variations in salivary IgA (SIgA) levels and natural killer cell cytotoxicity, PNI researchers have connected humor and/or laughter to immune system enhancement.
In a randomized crossover design study, ten college students were shown two videos: one informational and one humorous.
The subjects demonstrated significantly higher SIgA levels after watching Richard Pryor Live, indicating that sense of humor and humor response (laughter) can affect one measure of immune activity.
Again, though, more research is necessary to form any solid conclusions SIgA variations.
PNI researchers have found another indicator that laughter improves immune system function: increased natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity.
NK cells are lymphocytes (white blood cells) that can distinguish cancerous and virally-infected cells from normal cells, and can destroy the former without harming the latter.
As lower levels of NK cell activity are correlated with metastasized cancer, higher levels indicate better resistance to disease.
To investigate the effect of humor on NK cell activity, researchers (Berk, et al.) evaluated blood samples taken from 52 healthy males during and after watching a one-hour humorous video. The subjects demonstrated increased NK cell activity as well as sustained increase in immunoglobulins G, A, and M.Through similar studies, researchers have determined that laughter trumps humor when it comes to improved immune system function. In a controlled study (Bennett, et al.
) in which researchers compared the effects of humor on NK cell activity in 33 healthy, adult women, subjects who laughed aloud during a humorous video showed greater increases in NK cell activity and lower stress levels than women who just smiled or did not experience any type of humorous response.
Just What the Doctor Ordered
While the evidence in the abovementioned studies is not enough to prove that laughter will protect us against, or cure, disease, it does indicate that laughter has merit as a medicinal tool.
Does it really matter, though, why laughter improves our states of well being as long as we’re still enjoying it? As a healing force, laughter exemplifies the reasoning behind the “why ask why?” (originally introduced to advertise Budweiser beer in the early 1990’s) and “just do it” (Nike sneakers) slogans. While we’re often not able to explain why certain situations or phrases strike us as funny and make us laugh, we certainly feel good when they do. The emotional buoyancy and stress relief brought on by laughter simply improves our quality of life. Whether we master it or not, laughter, on its face, is good, common-sense medicine.
While, at this point, we cannot recommend that one substitute laughter for any conventional medicinal procedure, we do absolutely suggest its use as a vital complimentary therapy to boost one’s immune system function as well as one’s spirits.
In this light, some yoga studios are even starting to offer “laughter yoga” classes. Since research suggests that the physiological mechanism of laughter appears to better promote health than humor alone, let the laughter fly.
Since laughter tends to be contagious, you could actually help improve someone else’s health.
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- The Gesundheid Institute
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© 2010 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.
Food Heals | Plant Powered Recipes | Alternative Medicine | Robyn’s Story- Healing her children’s asthma naturally
I am the oldest of eight children, raised in a one-income family, so money was scarce. My mother was raised by the owners of a large produce dealership, the Romney Produce Company. My grandparents were always trying to use up anything about to rot in the warehouses. So, produce is what we ate.
Dinner for me growing up was simple: a bowl of black-eyed peas with a little vinegar, and some cantaloupe. Or a bowl of chili beans (no meat) and a green salad. Or a baked potato, corn on the cob, and a cucumber.
I was raised on whole plant foods, because they are the most inexpensive way to eat!
As a teen, I baked my family’s weekly whole-wheat bread supply (eight loaves).
I married a guy who is the oldest of seven raised on meat at all three meals. That was our first fight after we got married: “I eat meat every day!” he said. “I don’t know how to make that,” I said.
During most of our 20-year marriage, our compromise was that I didn’t fix it–he could eat meat and junk food at work or when we went to a restaurant.
He was happier than he thought he would be, with what I fixed–and he d the health benefits. After our split, he gained 50 lbs.In my 20’s, I had a long period of deviating from how I’d been raised. I’d just graduated from college and had a desk job. Sitting all day, eating a lot of white bread, sugar, and meat, paying little attention to my diet, I gained 15 lbs. and was sick all winter.
Our four children came along in less than seven years. All four had asthma from the time they were babies, and two of them were in and doctors’ offices and even the hospital. I gained even more weight, once over 200 lbs.
I was often up all night with my oldest son, watching him turn blue and struggling for breath. I began to have panic attacks and insomnia and didn’t dare leave him alone sleeping.
I felt we couldn’t go on this way and went to my little boy’s doctor, having done the tiniest bit of advance research into asthma recommendations by non-allopathic practitioners.
My son’s pediatrician had always quickly prescribed bronchodilators and steroids— the room and on to the next patient within five minutes.
This time I had a list of questions—for instance: “What role does diet play, and should I take him off dairy products?” I explained that I’d learned that cow’s milk triggers mucus production, and since the lungs fill with mucus in an asthma attack, it seemed logical to me that taking him off dairy would be a good start.
As I talked, the doctor’s face became red and tense. He began pacing the room. I thought for a moment he was going to throw his pen at me. This doctor claimed to be the best for what ailed my son—“Asthma is my hobby!” he’d once said. Yet he never educated me about the disease, just quickly scribbled drug prescriptions.
One day he mentioned offhandedly that liquid steroids were “guaranteed” to stunt growth if given five times per year or more. As he sent me out the door with my fifth prescription for Prednisone in seven months!
“Diet and exercise, diet and exercise! They’re nice, but they DON’T CURE ASTHMA!” he bellowed at my milk question. I meekly put my list away, and became well aware in that instant that what he had to offer was simply this: drugs.The doctor visits ended, cold turkey, when I immediately eliminated dairy and sugar. We would from that time forward virtually eliminate refined and processed foods and eat a 60% raw, whole-foods diet.
I have never fed another spoonful of liquid steroids to any of my children. We would never again need antibiotics. Or cough medicine. We would soon say goodbye to inhaled bronchodilators forever. I studied extensively, and continue to do so, learning so much more along the way than I ever anticipated.
In effect, diet DID cure asthma. It’s still there as an inherent weakness, but we are symptom free. No more children turning blue, no more sleepless nights, no more panic attacks and racing to the hospital. I’ve shared my experience with a number of others who have seen equally miraculous results from simple changes.
This made a believer me, that M.D.s do not have all the answers, that I could find out good information by following my intuition and answers to prayers, and that much good information was available outside of the drug pamphlets in my pediatrician’s office.
When I need drugs or surgery, I’m glad the M.D.s are there. I want that to be a once or twice in a lifetime thing, though.
I had a good foundation to turn to natural remedies for health problems. When I was a teenager, I watched the events following my grandmother’s and uncle’s diagnosis of cancer—in their 50’s and early 30’s, respectively.
My uncle chose chemo/radiation for his Hodgkin’s Disease, caught in a very early stage, and we were all devastated when he died a very horrible and tragic death of the complications of those therapies, 18 months later, leaving behind his adoring wife and three little children.
My grandmother, on the other hand, created a tremendous amount of controversy in the family when she decided to treat her very deadly Stage 3 melanoma with an all-raw diet, foregoing the “burning and poisoning” approach approved by medical doctors today.She drank so much carrot juice that she turned orange! But she lived another 25 years, and my grandfather was later told by an M.D. that his own cancer was dramatically slowed for three decades because of their excellent diet.
I was heavily shaped by watching these family members’ experiences.
At first, the “road less traveled” for my children’s asthma was terrifying. I felt that if I left behind my faith in doctors, I’d be all alone! Surely thousands of doctors can’t be wrong! Over time, I have come to feel the very opposite of that initial fear: the sense of peace and control and faith that a self-directed education provides.
Very valuable is the resourcefulness of having a “box of tools” and network of help, to achieve health without helpless dependence on “modern medicine,” huge expense, frightening side effects, and powerlessness.
At first, my quest was to save my children from being sidelined in sports by their asthma, or their growth being stunted by steroids, or worse. That was accomplished.
Additionally, I lost tons of weight and have remained at my ideal weight of 135 lbs. for many years now, and enjoy optimal energy that I need, for life as a competitive athlete.
But, I have come to feel strongly that I was led down this path for purposes even greater than that.
About the Author – Robyn Openshaw
Author of the bestseller, The Green Smoothies Diet, and the course, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, Robyn Openshaw is passionate about showing people how to ditch the Standard American Diet and rediscover the body’s inherent desire for whole, natural plant foods. For more info, visit her web site at greensmoothiegirl.com.