First-of-its-kind study finds laughter is indeed good medicine, especially for the heart

Study is first randomised clinical trial to evaluate laughter therapy on patients with coronary artery disease

Vishwam Sankaran
Monday 28 August 2023 06:34 BST
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A new, first-of-its kind study has demonstrated that laughter can indeed be good medicine – especially for those with heart disease.

Laughter therapy can increase the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system that includes the heart, lungs, arteries and veins, found the yet-to-be peer-reviewed research presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Amsterdam.

Researchers, including Marco Saffi from the Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre in Brazil, found reduced inflammation and better signs of health among coronary artery disease patients who engaged in a course of laughter therapy.

They found laughter therapy sessions could cause the tissue inside a patient’s heart to expand, potentially leading to increased oxygen flow through the body.

Until now, different treatments without the use of drugs have been studied in coronary artery disease patients, but the benefits of rehabilitation using laughter therapy was not fully assessed, scientists said.

In the new study, the impact of laughter therapy on the functional capacity, tissue function as well as markers of inflammation in the bodies of patients with coronary artery disease was evaluated.

The condition, which is one of the most common diseases in the world, arises when the heart’s coronary arteries struggle to supply the organ with enough blood, oxygen and nutrients.

Scientists conducted a clinical trial involving 26 adults with an average age of 64 from August 2016 to December 2020, measuring each of their oxygen uptake and the widening of their main artery when blood flow increases.

Researchers also measured levels of molecules in the patients’ bodies, indicative of inflammation such as interleukin (IL)-6, IL-10, tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, vascular cell adhesion molecule (VCAM) and intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM).

Thirteen of the patients were assigned to the group that underwent laughter therapy by watching two self-selected TV comedy shows per week.

The other 13 served as the control group and watched “neutral documentaries”, scientists noted.

They said the study is the first controlled clinical trial to evaluate the impact of rehabilitation using laughter therapy on patients with coronary artery disease.

It revealed an increase in the body’s peak oxygen uptake and improvements in tissue function as well as the body’s markers of inflammation.

The new findings are in line with previous research that suggested having a good laughter session makes the body release endorphins, which are hormones that reduce stress and inflammation and help the heart and blood vessels relax.

Based on the new results, presented at the world’s largest heart conference, scientists say laughter therapy may constitute an “effective form of cardiac rehabilitation in this patient population”.

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