Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Can Laughter Actually Benefit a Person's Immune System?

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Can Laughter Actually Benefit a Person's Immune System?

Article excerpt

This column has a simple purpose but a difficult goal--discuss issues that affect the lives, well-being, and state of mind of those who must live and cope with a disability and do so in a humorous way. Not an easy thing to do, since there is certainly nothing funny or humorous about having a disability or in the obstacles that those with chronic disabilities encounter daily (I've had multiple sclerosis [MS] for 40 years and use a wheelchair). However, I've personally found that humor has, to a great extent, helped me cope with my disability, and I hope this column helps others with disabilities to do so as well.

In the introductory paragraph above, I say that my goal in writing it is to talk about issues that concern individuals with disabilities, and do so in a "humorous" way. I add that humor has helped me deal with multiple sclerosis for over 40 years.

It's true that humor and frequent laughter have helped me muddle through the erratic and unpredictable effects of MS. But why has humor helped, and how? Is it merely because a good belly laugh has taken my mind off other problems--sort of like the way a guy who's stubbed his toe forgets about the pain in his foot if he's subsequently hit in the head with a mallet--or does laughter cause some physical change or improvement?

Is the Immune System Positively Affected?

More than a few researchers and medical institutions have said that laughter, hilarity, and delight actually have a tangible, positive impact on a person's immune system. For instance, Kaiser Permanente, a large HMO here in the southwest, proclaims in its commercials that "laughter actually strengthens your immune system and is one of the best ways to manage stress." And Loma Linda University researchers Doctors Lee Berk and Stanley Tan, who have studied the effects of laughter on the immune system, reported that "laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies."

Laughter's positive impact on the immune system is certainly relevant to individuals with autoimmune diseases such as MS. As explained on the MS Society's website (http://www.national mssociety.org), in MS, the body's own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system and facilitates the transmission of electrical impulses from the brain. …

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