Laughter is the best medicine for heart attacks

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Laughter may be the best medicine, according to a study showing that people who have had a heart attack are more likely to have a glum outlook on life.

Laughter may be the best medicine, according to a study showing that people who have had a heart attack are more likely to have a glum outlook on life.

This is the first time a poor sense of humour has been linked to heart problems and some doctors are tentatively suggesting that being funny may prolong life. "The old adage that 'laughter is the best medicine' definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart," said Michael Miller, director of the cardiology centre at the University of Maryland, who led the research.

But other scientists remain uncertain about whether humour helps to prevent heart problems or people with heart problems tend to lose their sense of humour. Rose Marie Robertson, the president of the American Heart Association, said: "That question would be more interesting, but it would also be much harder to answer."

The Maryland team interviewed 300 people, half of whom had either suffered a heart attack or had been given coronary artery bypass surgery. They found that people with heart disease were 40 per cent less likely to laugh compared with people of the same age without heart disease.

Dr Miller said: "We don't know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack."

The volunteers were asked a series of multiple-choice questions such as: if you arrived at a party and found someone else wearing the same clothing would you: (a) not find it amusing; (b) be amused but not show it; (c) smile; (d) laugh or (e) laugh heartily.

The researchers found people with heart disease were less likely to recognise humour or use it to get out of uncomfortable situations. They laughed less, and were more likely to become angry or hostile.

"We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list," Dr Miller said at the association's meeting in New Orleans yesterday.

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