Laughter is catching – and can improve your allergic eczema!

According to the recent rash of articles about laughter not only can it reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, help you lose weight and lessen the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, but it can reduce you allergic reactions if you suffer from eczema or allergic asthma. Michelle Berriedale-Johnson investigates.

Across medical disciplines laughter is recognised as delivering both physiological, and psychological benefits with very limited adverse effects and virtually no contra indications – according to a recent literature review by Dr Mora Ripoll of the Organización Mundial de la Risa, Barcelona.

Clowns are employed to reduce pre-surgery anxiety in children, to relieve the suffering of children in areas of crisis including refugee camps, conflict zones (Clowns without Borders), to lift depression amongst elderly patients and to reduce levels of psychopathology amongst psychiatric inpatients. Interestingly, the efficacy of laughter does not seem to be affected by whether it is spontaneous or self induced and there is a yoga practice that focuses on just making yourself laugh.

As long ago as the 1950s Norman Cousins in his book, Anatomy of Illness as perceived by the patient: Reflections on healing and Regeneration claimed that laughing helped to reduce the severe pain that he suffered from his arthritis – a therapy still advocated by the Arthritic Association today.

However, a series of studies over the last ten years by Japanese allergist Hajime Kimata at Unitika Central Hospital in Uji-City, suggest that laughter can also have a significant effect on allergy induced atopic dermatitis/eczema and on allergic asthma.

In Dr Kimata’s first study, reported in a letter to JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) he subjected 26 eczema patients, all of whom were allergic to dustmites and most of whom were also allergic to cedar pollen and cat dander, to a viewing of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and then to an 87 minute video about weather information. The participants had previously gone without medication for 72 hours and underwent skin prick tests before and after each viewing. While the weather video had no effect on the patients, viewing Modern Times significantly reduced the wheal responses to all three allergens and the effect lasted for several hours after the viewing.

Dr Lee Berk, director of neuroimmunology at Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine in California, quoted on the American School of Laughter Yoga site suggests that:

‘The Th2 side of the immune system produces cytokines, the hormones of the immune system. And what we’ve found over the years when we looked at mirthful laughter and classical stress hormones, is that laughter lowers cortisol, which is the body’s powerful steroid, which can shut down the immune system. What’s important here is when cortisol increases it shuts down the Th1 side of the immune system and allows the Th2 side to crank up, and it is the Th2 side is responsible for producing IgE antibodies, which are the sign of an allergic response. But laughter down regulates cortisol, which turns on the Th1 side and suppresses the Th2 side. From a mechanistic standpoint, this study makes a lot of sense.’

Dr Kimata continued to investigate the anti-allergic possibilities of laughter for some years. Studies from 2004 to 2009 showed that watching a funny movie (he tended to use either Chaplin’s Modern Times or Mr Bean, for both of which language is irrelevant) increased the production of IgE specific to allergens, reduced the reactions of allergic asthmatics, improved the sleep of children with eczema, increased the production of melatonin in breastfeeding mothers (also relevant to sleep patterns in infants), improved their eczema in a group of elderly men and significantly reduced women’s gynaecological allergic reaction to sperm cells.

He also showed listening to Mozart (Piano Sonata No. 11, K 331 and Piano Concerto No. 21 K567, second movement) appeared reduce the reaction of patients who were allergic to latex, whereas listening to Beethoven (Symphony No. 6 Op. 68 Pastoral; second movement "Fur Elise" and Symphony No. 5 Op. 67, movement) did not .

A further study showed that playing violent video games or hearing a mobile phone ringing continuously worsened the symptoms of those suffering from allergic dermatitis/eczema while it had no effect on healthy subjects or those suffering from allergic rhinitis.

Comparison of the effects on specific blood parameters of eczematous subjects of watching The Best of Mr Bean, weather information and texting on a mobile phone showed that while Mr Bean reduced all allergic reactions, the weather information had no effect and text messaging increased the allergic response.

These studies are examined in more detail in a lengthy but very interesting article in the Natural Medicine Journal by Dr Jacob Schor of the Denver Naturopathic clinic on whose site is another shorter but similar article which also offers a little practical therapeutic advice.

Dr Schor also notes that Dr Kimata’s studies on allergic responses were not all confined to laughter. Weeping (during the film Kramer v. Kramer) had a beneficial effect on the allergic response of latex allergy sufferers; while 30 minutes of kissing their lover or spouse also reduced the production of allergen specific IgE!

If Dr Kimata is to be believed the prospects for allergy sufferers could be looking up!

And it might not only be for allergy sufferers. In his article Dr Schor goes on to look at other beneficial neurological, immune and endocrine effects of laughter in Type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.


First published in September 2011


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