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Laughter and The Big C: Why Yucking It Up Helps You Feel Better

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When you have cancer, is laughter really the best medicine? The down and dirty answer is, it depends ... on you.

While there isn’t any current scientific proof to support the claim that laughter can cure cancer or any other disease, there is mounting evidence that there are real physical and mental benefits to yucking it up.

Research shows laughter and humor can reduce stress and enhance a person’s quality of life. What’s more, humor has been linked with positive physical changes and an overall sense of well-being by stimulating the circulatory system, immune system, and other regulatory functions in the human body.

Though laughter has been used in medicine since the 13th century, it wasn't until the late 20th century that researchers began focusing on its possible therapeutic value. Laughter continues to be among one of the most researched therapies.

One famous study, Anatomy of an illness (1979) documents how after years of pain, Norman Cousins, a journalist and adjunct professor of Medical Humanities in the School of Medicine at UCLA, cured himself from a serious illness with a self-invented regimen of laughter and vitamins.

As it turns out, there is concrete evidence why we humans can laugh until we hurt. Dr. William Fry, Stanford University professor emeritus of clinical psychiatry found the answer.

Dr. Fry studied the effects of laughter for 30 years. He compares laughter to "inner jogging," and claims one minute of jovial laughter is the equivalent of 10 minutes of heart-pounding rowing — and much more fun.

According to Fry, after a good laugh our heart rate decreases, blood circulation improves, and we've worked muscles all over the body.

That's the idea behind Laughter yoga, popularized by Dr. Madan Kataria, where yogic breathing is combined with laughter exercises.

Another famous study found using humor led to better pain tolerance. It's thought laughter causes the release of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain, called endorphins, that control pain.

Other research suggests neuroendocrine and stress-related hormones decreased during episodes of laughter.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.