Rick Patel, MD, Alex Patel

Laughter, humor and Healing

Date Aired: December 29, 2017

Episode Description

Health maintenance requires more than exercise and a healthy diet. Stress reduction, mindfulness and humor are important additions for optimal health. Norman Cousins cured his debilitating autoimmune diseases with the help of laughter. Laughter increases endorphins, oxytocin and can burn calories to assist in weight reduction. Laughter can reduce anxiety, depression, stress, as well as reducing blood glucose levels, pain perception, and the risk for heart attacks. Learn about humor, how it affects our brain and physiology and its health benefits.

Norman Cousens(writer, editor of Saturday night review) locked  himself in a hotel

  • Painful collagen illness room dealing with laughter
  • After 10 minutes of laughter could sleep
  • The anatomy of illness in 1979

Dr. Berke  research on laughter and autoimmunity

William Fry professor psychology  applied for grants to study laughter  CVD

  • 70 and 80s laughter more important
  • forced laughter groups
    • helps wellbeing, confidence
  • 50 % of cancer patients have espouse laughter as being part of their regime
  • 25 % cancer support groups have laughter as part of regimen

Background of the Patels’ Book

  • Alex coped with the brutality of his classmates with humour
  • For example, “I may be stupid but at least I am slow”
  • Anti jokes
    • Why are fish so smart because they swim in schools. Because they are not, they are fish

VS Ramashandron  UCSD

  • Laughter is an instinct deaf and blind can laugh
  • Across all languages and cultures
  • Was around before we were human
  • Howler Monkeys laughter communicated retraction of a treat breathing to indicate that there is nothing wrong


  • Dalvina Ross Portsmouth University in UK looked at tickling
  • The closer on our evolutionary an animal is, the more it will sound like us
  • Gorilla orangutan more like howler monkeys retraction of threat
  • All primates exhibit laughter and have jokes
  • Rats
  • Tickling is preparation for combat
    • Tickling spots are in vulnerable spots
      • Laughter communicates “I am OK let’s tussles more”

Why  humans laugh

  • Reduction of tension
  • Promotes socialization
  • Promote understanding of ideas outside usual ralm of acceptance
  • Humour distracts
  • Is an underutilized technique

Humour is tied to learning

  • When presented with information that is in conflict with beliefs
  • Humour cuts through defenses of “I don’t want to hear it
  • So cuts through defenses such as Saturday Night Live TV show
    • This is not threatening let’s check this out. 

Need to be in the comic space

  • Rubber chicken
  • Groucho Marks
  • Suspend reality dull threatened circuits

History of Humour

  • Coco the gorilla
    • 42 year old gorilla with IQ 70
    • laugh over 1000 sign language
    • over 2000 words
    • tied keepers shoe laces together and signed “chase me”
  • Before Shakespeare, humour was slapstick or scatological
    • Tension reducing
  • After Shakespeare
    • Humour more sly and subtle
    • Toward anti jokes
  • Earliest Joke:1900 BC southern Iraq “a young woman did not fart on her husband’s lap”

U Hertfordhire  is laugh lab

  • Richard Weissman
    • Funniest jokes caused feeling of superiority
    • World’s funniest joke wo hunters in woods one collapses.  One calls for help and says, “My friend is dead what do we do?”

The answer was, “Let’s make sure he is dead”

There was silence, then a shot.   “OK now what?”

  • Shows inconsistency
  • We are superior because we are smart
  • No one harmed

Do we laugh at the same thing?

  • Kids laugh 3 times more than an adult
  • Social 30 times more than solitary laughter
  • Laughteris contagious
    • Laughter communication about retractionof a treat
    • skype laughter chain
      • people laughing because laughter s stimulus

Do we need a stimulus to laugh?

  • communicates we are with you
  • alleviates tension that separates people ad allows people to bond
  • can initiate a bond
  • when feel tension, reduce tension
  • resets circuits so can pay attention to whatever trouble
  • meditate , exercise also reduce tension

Harm from laugher

  • Alex Mitchell died on TV show after 25 minutes from heart failure
  • Six hour rowing exercise
  • Not when driving a car
  • Hernia, jaw dislocation, stress incontinence

Different kinds of laughter

  • Nervous,
  • wit
  • sarcasm,
  • clowning around,
  • excited,
  • happy,
  • tense,
  • laughing at someone else,
  • mirth

Belly laugh active meditative state 

  • Cannot communicate normally
  • Decrease stress hormone epi, nori cortisol
  • Mirthful laughter decreases stress hormones

Two main circuits

  • Involuntary laughter
    • Non frontal lobe – amygdala, thalamus, hypo sand sub thalamic areas  dorsal tegmentum of brain stem
      • Slip on banana peel unharmed
      • Tickling
      • Is primitive instinctual laughter
    • Voluntary laughter
      • Socialization area
      • Prefrontal, frontal to motor to pyramidal tracts coordinate respiratory

This laughter connects us

  • Primary function
  • We integrated this to connect us in different ways around different subjects
  • If you like comedian laugh a lot more
  • Laughter is a defense against not liking a person

Freud was promoter of laughter

Wrote an interpretation of jokes book

  • Defense of secret desires that we cannot speak of
  • Humour is deliberate mental expenditure
  • Stabilize conscious and unconscious events
  • Felt good about it


  • Reviewed 60,000 jokes
    • Sputum and vomit
    • Defiling of mother
    • Favourite joke is psychological signature
  • Jokes may reveal something about their character.

 Reasons to Laugh at Jokes

  • Nervous
  • Want to bond
  • Helps convey information better accept new information that did not fit into our scheme

Ages of Laughter

  • Starts with baby
    • Helps bond with baby
    • If don’t laugh might want to check it out
    • Increases oxytocin bonding hormone


  • Women laugh three times the rate of men
  • Greater societal pressure to be accepted
  • Not applauded for using power and confidence
  • Awarded for being agreeable and likeable
  • Perhaps because society prevented tem from advancing with power
  • Left with being personable
  • Makes woman attractive smile is better than a facelift
  • Smile laughter communicates this person is happy and healthy

Health Effects of Laughter

  • Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation
  • researcher laughter may not be substitute for gym membership but is cheaper
    • ten seconds of big belly roll laugh similar to ten minutes rowing exercise. (William Fry)
  • Helpful in heart disease
    • Lowers arrhythmia, blood pressure and epinephrine and norepinephrine in urine
    • Need less nitroglycerine in heart attack
    • Lower recurring heart attacks
    • Laughter protect the heart by increasing blood flow
    • Brachial blood flow and oxygenation (Michael Miller)
    • Blood flow increased 22- 35 % lasted after laughter
  • Affects Neurotransmitters
    • Robert Lustig serotonin happiness dopamine pleasure can have tolerance
    • Laughter initiates both serotonin and dopamine – don’t build tolerance
    • Can’t overdose on this drug
  • Natural pain killers
    • Studies watching humour, can tolerate pain longer
  • Stimulates BDNF, helps in depression
  • Decreases stress hormones: cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, Growth Hormone
    • Chronic stress affects health
  • It may help metabolic pathways
    • Lower BS after funny movie
  • Boosts the immune system
    • 1980 LeeBerke,  Loma Linda
    • increase T cells Ig A and beta cells
    • Richard Pryor live: studies in 1985 salivary Ig A doubled
    • Children laughing 4 x increase IgA
    • Children don’t connect colds as much
    • NK non B, non T can lyse tumours
    • IgA decreases EBV, mono, HSV, influenza
  • Psychological health
  • Humour ties us together
  • Laugh more with other
  • Helps with adversity
  • Inspires hope
  • Elevates from pain and conflict
  • Relieves those in despair