Invigorating tonic that heightens and brightens mood, laughter is not only enjoyable but itís also health promoting. The old adage "Laughter is the best medicine" is confirmed by modern science when it comes to helping children cope with pain, according to Margaret Stuber, M.D., a researcher with the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"Laughter seems to induce a relaxation response in the autonomic nervous system [ the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary functions of the body ]. We think it could be used to help children who are undergoing painful procedures or who suffer from pain-expectation anxiety," says Dr. Stuber, professor of psychiatry and bio-behavior sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"In the future, watching humorous videos could become a standard component of some medical procedures," says Dr. Stuber, who released the results today of a new study on laughterís pain diminishing effects, at an American Medical Association media briefing on pain management.
The program, Rx Laughter, is a unique collaboration between the entertainment industry, pediatrics and psychiatry.
"As a clinician, I am interested in preventing stress and anticipatory anxiety from simple procedures such as shots to complex procedures such as bone marrow aspirates. Rx Laughterís goal is to ease ill children through some of these medical procedures and minimize the traumatic effects that the children experience. In some instances laughter may even reduce the amount of anesthesia necessary," describes Dr. Stuber.
"Laughter could also be of benefit for children with chronic pain, reducing need for medications, and improving functional status."
The Rx Laughter team, comprised of Dr. Stuber, Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer (Professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Anesthesiology, and Director of the UCLA Pediatric Pain Program at the Mattel UCLA Childrenís Hospital), and Sherry Dunay Hilber (Creator, Founder and President of Rx Laughter and veteran primetime network comedy executive), has been working on an application of this work by setting up a system for children in medical isolation to communicate with each other while watching humorous videos.
"The potential benefit is not only from having the children laughing, but in being able to laugh together" says Dr. Stuber.
"Laughter is at least as contagious as the infections we are trying to protect the children from!"
She adds: "Throughout my career, I've been studying trauma responses in children with illnesses requiring many painful procedures. Interestingly, some children are less easily traumatized than others. We are looking into the factors involved in resiliency so we can reduce the traumatic impact of treatment."