Emotions & the Healing of Cancer

Welcome to Healing Cancer Naturally’s Laughter Is Medicine Pages!

If all the medicine in the world were thrown into the sea, it would be bad for the fish and good for humanity.
O.W. Holmes (Professor of Medicine, Harvard University)

Laughter Has Healing Power: Seriously!

For example, the documentary "The Secret" (which is all about the “law of attraction”, i.e. the power of the mind to help shape our reality) apparently features a lady who cured herself of cancer by purely watching comedies and telling herself repeatedly that she was in great health.

Here is a collection of in-depth articles on the power of laughter to exert a healing influence on the body, including indeed curing “incurable” disease(!), complemented by some hopefully “laughter-inducing” medicine...

As Harold H. Benjamin, PhD, notes, "Laughter in and of itself cannot cure cancer nor prevent cancer, but laughter as part of the full range of positive emotions including hope, love, faith, strong will to live, determination and purpose, can be a significant and indispensable aspect of the total fight for recovery."

Using Your Amuse System to Boost Your Immune System

from Humor Your Tumor (April, 1999)
By Paul McGhee, PhD

"The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease."
-Voltaire

There are few sources of stress in life greater than the words, "You have cancer." And we have known for decades that any kind of stress--especially chronic stress that's there day after day--has a suppressive effect on the immune system. You are more vulnerable to becoming ill when constantly stressed precisely because your immune system is not operating as well is it normally would--if you were under less stress or were coping with it more effectively.

Your sense of humor provides a powerful antidote to immunosuppressive effects of stress in two ways: through 1) direct effects of humor and laughter upon the immune system, and 2) indirect effects resulting from humor's ability to help you cope on the tough days. In this column, we'll focus only on the direct immunoenhancement effects of humor.

Research has looked at both humoral (immunoglobulins) and cellular immunity. In the case of the former, most of the studies have focused on immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA resides in the mucosal areas and helps protect you against upper respiratory infections. Seven studies have shown significant increases in concentrations of IgA in response to comedy programs designed to produce a lot of laughter.

While many different investigators have completed the IgA research, Lee Berk and his associates at the School of Medicine at Loma Linda University has obtained similar findings for many additional components of the immune system. The rest of this column is based on findings from his research.

Mirthful laughter also increases levels of IgM and IgG. IgM antibodies are the first to arrive at a location within the body as a part of the humoral immune response. After IgM does its initial work, IgG takes over. It is IgG antibodies that are produced in the greatest amount in the body, and that are responsible for long-term immunity. When you are immunized, for example, it is the IgG antibodies that are tested to see if the procedure was successful.

Laughter also increases levels of Complement 3, a part of your immune system that helps antibodies pierce through defective or infected cells in order to destroy them.

With respect to cellular immunity, watching a one-hour comedy video has been found to produce 1) increased number of B cells, 2) increased number of, and activation of, T cells, 3) increased number of Helper T cells (the cells attacked by the AIDS virus), 4) increased ratio of Helper/Suppressor T cells, 5) increased number of, and activity of, Natural Killer (NK) cells, and 6) increased levels of Gamma Interferon.

The increased number of B cells is not surprising, given the increased levels of IgA, IgG, and IgM, since B cells are responsible for making all the immunoglobulins.

The findings for NK cells and Gamma Interferon are especially important for cancer patients. NK cells are designed to seek out and destroy tumor (cancer) cells (they also destroy virally infected cells, even with no prior exposure). Gamma Interferon plays an important role in the activation of NK cells. It also contributes to the growth of cytotoxic T cells and the maturation of B cells. It is best thought of as a kind of orchestra leader that regulates the level of cooperation between cells in the immune system, and tells different components of the immune system when to turn on and off.

There is something about humor and laughter, then, that causes the immune system to "turn on" metabolically and do more effectively what it is designed to do. This is one reason there is no so much interest in the therapeutic benefits of humor in oncology centers across the country. It's also responsible for the increased interest in having speakers on the health and coping benefits of humor for National Cancer Survivors Day Celebrations for those who are living with cancer.

While these data are exciting, they do not mean that laughter will cure you from cancer, or any other disease. Humor and laughter are not a replacement for the treatment you or your loved one are undergoing. But there's now every reason to believe that the patient makes an important contribution to his/her own treatment by managing their frame of mind or emotional state. Building more laughter into your life helps assure that you'll have all your body's own natural healing resources fully available to you.

Remember to take you illness seriously, but take yourself lightly in dealing with it on a day-to-day basis. So lighten up! Jest for the health of it.

Dr. McGhee adds: “Most cancer patients say they know that it's important to keep a positive attitude, and to try to keep some humor and laughter in their life. But they simply can't generate a mood or frame of mind that allows them to find anything to laugh at. Their sense of humor abandons them right when they need it the most!” Dr. McGhee offers an “8-Step Program for learning to use humor to cope“ featured in his book Health, Healing and the Amuse System: Humor as Survival Training, “a hands-on 8-Step Program for learning to develop the basic foundation skills required to use humor to cope with stress”. You can support this humanitarian site at no extra cost to you by buying this or any other book or item through my Amazon links (US, UK, Canada, France, Spain, Brazil, Italy & Germany).

Compare Healing Cancer & Your Mind.

Can Laughter Reduce Pain?

from Humor Your Tumor (February, 1999)
By Paul McGhee, PhD.

"A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast."
Groucho Marx

A nurse recently told me of a Methodist minister who had been in a serious accident and had to spend several weeks in the hospital. He had a lot of pain, and was given shots to reduce it. The procedure was always the same. When the pain got bad enough, he would ring a buzzer near his bed, and a nurse would soon come to give him the shot. One day, he rang for the nurse and then rolled over on his side (with his back to the door), pulled his hospital gown up over his exposed backside, and waited for the nurse to come in. When he heard the door open, he pointed to his right bare buttock and said, "Why don't you give me the shot right here this time?"

After a few moments of silence, he looked up. It was a woman from his church! Following a brief embarrassing conversation, the woman left, and the minister--realizing what he had done--started laughing. He laughed so hard that tears were coming out of his eyes when the nurse arrived. When he tried to explain what had happened, he began laughing even harder.

When he was finally able to tell the nurse the whole story, what do you think he noticed? His pain was gone! He didn't need the shot, and didn't ask for one for another 90 minutes.

At some point following their diagnosis of cancer, many cancer patients find themselves thinking, "How will I deal with the pain?" The last coping resource they consider is their sense of humor. And yet there are many stories like the one above, along with a growing body of scientific research, showing that humor and laughter can play a significant role in reducing pain.

The idea that laughter has analgesic properties is not new. Dr. James Walsh, an American physician, noted in his 1928 book, Laughter and Health, that laughter appeared to reduce the level of pain experienced following surgery. This observation then disappeared from the medical literature until the publication of Norman Cousins' 1979 book, Anatomy of an Illness.

Cousins was suffering from ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative spinal disease which left him in almost constant pain. With the consent of his doctors, he checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel across the street. He invited friends over and watched a lot of comedy films--and laughed a lot! He discovered that as little as 10 minutes of laughter would give him 2 hours of pain-free sleep.

Several studies have now documented the pain-reducing power of humor and laughter. In one study, watching or listening to humorous tapes increased the length of time participants were able to keep their hand in ice water before it became painful. Another study showed that those who found the comedy material funnier were able to endure the ice water longer than those who found it less funny.

In a study of 35 patients in a rehabilitation hospital, 74% agreed with the statement, "Sometimes laughing works as well as a pain pill." These patients had a broad range of conditions, such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, arthritis, limb amputations, and other neurological or musculoskeletal disorders.

The explanation for why laughter reduces pain is not yet clear. While most people assume that it's because of the production of endorphins (one of the body's natural painkillers), there is still no scientific evidence to support this view. The reduced pain may also be because of the muscle relaxation that occurs from laughter, or because humor and laughter distract us from the source of pain.

If you're a chronic pain suffer, it doesn't really matter why humor and laughter ease your pain. The important thing is that it does. So you can just accept it as a gift on the days when you manage to find something to laugh at.

While laughter clearly helps ease pain for many individuals, it doesn't do so for everyone. It is not clear at this point just what kinds of pain a good laugh can and cannot soothe. The best advice at this point is to just build more laughter into your life and see whether it works for you. What do you have to lose? Even if it doesn't eliminate your pain, it will boost your spirits and bring more joy into your life on the difficult days.

More articles by Dr. McGhee and background info on one of his websites

Compare Cancer Pain Medication Alternatives and Healing Cancer & Your Mind.

A Good Laugh Is Good For You, However...
anticipating the laugh... is even better

from Looking forward to a laugh? Good for you... by MAGGIE FOX, Reuters, Nov. 06, 2002

WASHINGTON - Laughter may be the best medicine, but even looking forward to having a good laugh can boost your immune system and reduce stress, according to US researchers at the University of California-Irvine.

"This stuff is real,” said Lee Berk, an assistant professor of family medicine and researcher in complementary and alternative medicine, who led the study.

Berk went on to say...

"This study shows that even knowing you will be involved in a positive humorous event days in advance reduces levels of stress hormones in the blood and increases levels of chemicals known to aid relaxation."

His team tested 16 men who all agreed they thought a certain videotape was funny. Half of them were told 3 days in advance they would watch it.

Anticipation is half, or two-thirds, the fun...

Just anticipating a happy, funny event can raise levels of endorphins and other pleasure and relaxation-inducing hormones, and lower production of stress hormones. Those who knew in advance they would see the video started experiencing biological changes right away. These findings were reported by Berk at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Orlando, Florida.

Pretty Incredible Findings...

When the men watched the video, levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, fell 39%. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, fell 70%, while levels of the feel-good hormone endorphin rose 27% and growth hormone levels climbed 87%.

"Growth hormone is very beneficial to the immune system,” Berk said. This all suggests that anticipation of a funny event can lower stress and stimulate the immune system, Berk further explained.

Watching a funny video, or just laughing at a joke, could make healthful changes in the levels of hormones involved in stress and lower blood pressure. In 2000, a team at the University of Maryland reported that people who stated that they used humor more often were less likely to have had heart attacks.

But this is the first time that researchers have shown the anticipation of having fun has similar effects.

"You have been thinking about it all day, so you experience a change in biology even before you get there... that's therapeutic", Berk said. The finding strengthens the advice that everyone should lighten up a little to live longer.

The Amazing Life of Norman Cousins
the man who laughed himself to health

Norman Cousins (1915 to 1990), longtime editor of the Saturday Review, global peacemaker, receiver of hundreds of awards including the UN Peace Medal and nearly fifty honorary doctorate degrees, overcame a life threatening disease and a massive coronary, each time using his own nutritional and emotional support protocol.

Cousin’s seminal book ”Anatomy of an Illness” details his healing journey overcoming ankylosing spondylitis (a degenerative disease causing the breakdown of collagen). Given up to die within a few months in 1965, almost completely paralyzed, Cousins checked out of the hospital, moved into a hotel room and began taking extremely high doses of vitamin C while exposing himself to a continuous stream of humorous films and similar ”laughing matter”. His condition steadily improved and Cousins regained the use of his limbs until he was able to return to his full-time job at the Saturday Review.

Reading

Here are some of the books by Norman Cousing exploring “humor therapy”, the power of belief and the mind-body connection.

You can support this humanitarian site at no extra cost to you by purchasing any of the following books (or other products) via Healing Cancer Naturally's international Amazon links covering eight countries.


Anatomy of an IllnessAnatomy of an Illness: A Guide to Healing and Regeneration

With an Updated Introduction by Norman Cousins, Jason Robards


Anatomy of an IllnessAnatomy of an Illness As Perceived by the Patient : Reflections on Healing and Regeneration

A special gift edition of Norman Cousins's phenomenal bestseller on illness overcome and the triumph of the human spirit. The premise of Norman Cousins's enormously influential work is that the human mind is capable of promoting the body's capacity for combating illness and healing itself even when faced with a seemingly hopeless medical predicament.


Head First : The Biology of HopeHead First : The Biology of Hope and the Healing Power of the Human Spirit

Cousins' pionering account of his personal triumph over severe illness... Head First depicts Cousins' 10-year quest to find the proof that positive attitudes are actually biochemical factors which combat disease. (Ingram) “This book shows how remarkable and awesome the human spirit truly is.” (From a reader's review)


Persuasion and HealingPersuasion and Healing : A Comparative Study of Psychotherapy

The Celebration of LifeThe Celebration of Life:
A Dialogue on Hope, Spirit, and the Immortality of the Soul
Healing and BeliefHealing and Belief

by Norman Cousins, William Smith


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