Laughter as REAL medicine earned it’s place within mainstream science.
Don’t let anyone tell you “it’s just in your head.” Psychoneuroimmunology (psy·cho·neu·ro·im·mu·nol·o·gy \ˌsī-kō-ˌn(y)u̇r-ō-ˌim-yə-ˈnä-lə-jē) is the branch of science that studies laughter’s effects on the immune system in relation to the onset and progression of disease.
Okay fine, it started out studying the effects of stress — but it was the discovery of stress’ consequences that led scientists to wonder: “hmmmm, if stress can make a person sick, can laughter heal her?”
How to pronounce: psychoneuroimmunology
Robert Ader coined the word psychoneuroimmunology to describe the field of study he helped create. He launched the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. Below is an excerpt from an interview with Bill Moyers during which Ader talks about the mind-body connection.
Or just go by it’s abbreviation: PNI
The birth of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI)
Scientists have been publishing studies describing the effects of stress on health since Claude Bernard, a French physiologist, first wrote about the “milieu intérieur” – the internal environment of the body that when out of balance, can lead to disease states in 1865(1). Bernard and the co-authors of his book “Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine” invented the technique of artificially producing disease in lab animals by using chemical and physical manipulation to change internal variables. They coined the term “homeostasis” to describe the acceptable range of variable values to sustain health. Fall outside the acceptable range and disease results.
In 1975 Robert Ader, a psychologist working in concert with an immunologist published a paper proving he killed rats by stressing them to the point their immune systems failed. He named his discovery “psychoneuroimmunology” to honor the connection between psychology (one’s emotional state) and the immune system. The scientific community thought he was bonkers or a crank calling the notion “absurd” — in short, they laughed at him. However, when even his most stringent skeptics were able to reproduce his results, Adler had the last laugh and pyschoneuroimmunology joined the ranks of mainstream science (2). Who doesn’t love a happy ending?
PNI: Laugh and be Healthy!
Laughter triggers chemicals in the brain that tell your whole body to take care of itself! One good belly laugh releases a cascade of defense fighters that hunt down errant cells and destroys pathogens on contact. A simple deep breath starts a stream of healing hormones to counter stress effects and promote good health.
Even a FAKE smile works! Try it!
Emotions stimulate the nervous system for the better or worse
It may be obvious that a positive emotion kick starts the central nervous system for the better while a negative one does so for the worse. Well, if not obvious it’s at least intuitive, right?
It also seems intuitive that a stimulus that can make you happy or sad will have a corresponding positive or negative effect on your immune system. But it wasn’t intuitive for scientists prior to Ader who were trapped inside the knowledge they already possessed. To date, the only known information highway leading to the immune system was the lymph network which doesn’t go anywhere near the central nervous web. That’s why they laughed at Ader — communication between the immune and central nervous systems seemed impossible.
But after Ader was vindicated, researchers fell over each other to be the first to uncover the secret rendezvous point.
John Williams was first to publish in 1981. He’d discovered a network of nerves leading to blood vessels terminating in the thymus and spleen. In turn, these organs hold reservoirs of immune cells including mast cells, lymphocytes and marcophages. For the first time, researchers documented the existence of a sort of Internet cafe where nerve and immune cells hang out(3)
Next in 1985, Candace Pert found neurotransmitter and neuropeptide receptors on the walls of cells living in the brain and immune system. Neurotransmitters and neuropeptides are CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM MESSENGERS making it abundantly clear that emotions speak directly to the brain AND immune cells(4). How cool is that!?!
Laughter makes carpal tunnel surgery recovery go faster too!
Hysterical! even for non-nerds
How laughter activates the brain and fights disease
Something happens and we react — the nature of the reaction suits the nature of the happening. If we need to flee or fight to protect ourselves from a villain, the stress response is activated to fuel muscles and focus the brain on figuring out how to get out of the jam. It’s not the time to think about what to cook for dinner. We now know that modern society keeps us in an almost constant state of fight-or-flight accounting for the epidemic of stress borne disease. More on that in another post.
We’re focusing on happiness here! Whether or not we react with laughter or tears to an event, the pathway to the immune system is the same — although of course the outcomes are diametrically opposed. Happiness heals while sadness injures.
We’ll take a quick look at how it works. Imagine these activities going on as you experience an emotion to help gain control over your health.
Here’s your FREE Laughter Rx!
aka in the Laugh2Healthy lexicon as: Goddess-Empress-Doer (GED)
Okay, we want to make this really simple so that all you have to do when stressed out is think GED to calm yourself down. As soon as you think “GED” you’ll visualize what you’re about to read below and instantly inject healing hormones into your bloodstream. If you need some help relaxing, stick a pencil in your mouth and bite hard to lift the corners of your mouth because even a fake smile boosts your immune system. Or download Maggie’s free phone app and let her cajole you into a grin. The important thing is to just do it.
The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA)
The HPA is named after three components: the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands. These are incredibly important parts of the body that work together to control just about everything that automatically happens (the autonomic responses) to disrupt or sustain health.
The hypothalamus is located in the center of the brain and is the prime-mover or master regulator of what happens. So we call it Goddess, easier to remember and far more descriptive!
The pituitary sits below the hypothalamus and is connected to the Goddess via nerve fibers. She’s like the second-in-command so we call her Empress as she only takes orders from the Goddess.
Then we have the adrenals that sit on top of each kidney. We call these the Doers because they make sure the orders from above get carried out.
Goddess-Empress-Doers axis (GED)
This is how the GED works.
Imagine you’re sailing down the freeway in a hurry to get home and relax when you round a corner and Screeech! You pounce on the brakes to avoid slamming into an SUV that might as well be parked given how slow it’s going.
This is what just happened in your head:
First, adrenaline was already streaming through your blood because you were in a hurry to relax – (note to self: it’s okay to relax on the way home to relax). Adrenaline is the hormone that raises blood pressure to quicken your heart rate, speed up breathing and send energy to the muscles and senses to keep you sharp. That’s why you saw the SUV in front of you in time to slam on the brakes. But at the same time, adrenaline shuts your brain down to keep it from thinking about anything except the task at hand (which at the time was: hurrying up to relax) explaining why it probably didn’t occur to you that it’s kinda silly to hurry up to relax.
Your ever vigilant Goddess is constantly monitoring the external environment by way of the senses. When your eyes picked up the SUV, she sent a directive to the Empress who translated the directive into a variety of hormones selected for the action they take upon various other parts of the body. Chief among them is ACTH or adrenocorticotropic hormone. ACTH shoots down to the Doers (adrenals) to tell them to make adrenaline to get everything moving fast enough to avoid death-by-rear-ending.
Now the issue is that you’ve just injected a ton more adrenaline into your bloodstream and you’re sitting on the edge of your seat. The Doers release cortisol to pick up where adrenaline leaves off to keep your senses aimed at gaining mere inches of ground as you attempt to advance down the freeway. Getting home has become a survival issue!
What are you going to do next? Now is the time for choice.
Do you want to continue flooding your bloodstream with cortisol, the stress hormone notorious for creating and promoting disease states? Probably not — instead, consider forcing a smile on your face to initiate a cascade of loving and healing hormones coursing through your body.
Pull out your phone play your favorite “just breathe” message on the Laugh2Healthy playlist. Every deep breathe reverses stress damage. Listen to Maggie sing an acknowledgment praising you for taking care of yourself!
You just changed your internal universe!
Your Goddess sends a calm down directive to the Empress. The Empress instructs the Doers to release glucocorticoids that neutralize adrenaline and cortisol. Your bloodstream fills with immune cells that actively seek out and destroy stress and inflammation villains including any chance cancer cells that may be roaming around looking for a place to nest.
One of the marvels of your body is that you can train your autonomic system to react this way whenever you encounter potentially harmful stress.
Over time, by practicing GED the simple thought “GED” will instigate this loving and healing response. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, the principle of associating an automatic physiological response to an external stimulus works for humans, too.
Interested? Download the Laugh2Healthy app now and start your training!
(1) Goldstein, David S., and Irwin J. Kopin. “Evolution of Concepts of Stress.” Stress 10.2 (2007): 109-20. Web.
(2) Ader, Robert, and Nicholas Cohen. “Behaviorally Conditioned Immunosuppression.” Psychosomatic Medicine 37.4 (1975): 333-40. Web.
(3) Goldstein, David S., and Irwin J. Kopin. “Evolution of Concepts of Stress.” Stress 10.2 (2007): 109-20. Web.
(4) Ader, Robert, and Nicholas Cohen. “Behaviorally Conditioned Immunosuppression.” Psychosomatic Medicine 37.4 (1975): 333-40. Web.