The value of laughter

Laughter is widely prescribed as good medicine

I remember laughing so hard at “Finding Nemo” that I missed parts of the movie because I was already doubled over. Had to go back and see it again. Today “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis” gets us cackling. Laughter is widely prescribed as good medicine, so keep reading if you want to see if the funniest joke in the world helps you feel better.

The benefits of a good laugh just don’t stop. A research publication reviewed all the published research available on laughter since 1946, considering 2,287 papers. The evidence reminds us that laughter makes pain easier to tolerate, relieves tension, improves blood sugar and lowers the risk of a heart attack. One study from a fertility clinic cited that a clown telling jokes for 12-15 minutes after women underwent in vitro fertilization had a significantly higher rate of pregnancy than similarly fertilized women who didn’t clown around.

Treating excessive laughing. At the risk of being a fun spoiler, it’s best to understand that there are some rare downsides to laughter. There are reports of pathologic laughing, when laughter is inappropriate and even unrelated to the patient’s own emotional state. A recent report came from Japan of a woman in her seventies who underwent brain surgery and suffered a stroke. In her recovery over the next six months she was afflicted by pathologic laughing, which was successfully treated with, curiously, antidepressants.

Die laughing. Even worse is Kuru, also known as the laughing disease. It was discovered in the 1950s in Papua New Guinea as a year-long terminal illness causing extreme weakness, confusion and death. Some victims would have uncontrolled, sporadic laughter. It was later found to be associated with cannibalism, particularly due to ingestion of prions (small infectious proteins that, when occurring, concentrate themselves in brain tissue). While some people were found to have a genetic immunity to prions, the better cure was to end cannibalism. Now Kuru is virtually non-existent except for in a few zombie movies. 

The funniest joke. It was over a decade ago that the University of Hertfordshire in England conducted a study to identify the world’s funniest joke. Results from a website where people could submit and rate jokes identified the joke with the widest appeal and understanding among different cultures. Over 40,000 jokes were reviewed, with 2 million ratings.

Here’s hoping you can spread some laughter around. You never know who might benefit from it.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu and follow us on social media.


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Vicky Cerino
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-5190