Expecting a laugh boosts stress-busting hormones

November 06, 2002

Irvine, Calif. -- Go ahead, laugh. In fact, look forward to the upcoming positive event. It does the body good.

Yes, even looking forward to a happy, funny event increases endorphins and other relaxation-inducing hormones as well as decreases other detrimental stress hormones, a UC Irvine College of Medicine-led study has found.

In previous studies, the scientists found that anticipating a funny video reduced feelings of stress. This study found that those feelings have biological underpinnings and may help researchers combat the harmful effects of stress. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Orlando, Florida.

Lee Berk, assistant professor of family medicine and a researcher at the Susan Samueli Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and his colleagues found that just anticipating a funny event reduced levels of stress-causing chemical messengers in the blood, and increased levels of chemicals known to reduce tension.

"Since chronic stress can suppress the immune system's ability to fight disease, reducing the effects of stress can help the body resist infections and other disorders," Berk said. "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. This has profound implications for complementary treatment of disease and for maintaining a person's wellness."

Berk and his colleagues tested 16 men at Loma Linda University. Half of them were informed three days in advance they would watch a humorous video. The men watching the video had a 39 percent decrease in cortisol, a 38 percent drop in dopac and a 70 percent drop in epinephrine, all of which are stress hormones. At the same time, endorphin levels rose 27 percent, and growth hormone levels rose 87 percent. Endorphins and growth hormones are known to reduce the effects of stress and benefit the immune system. These changes were not seen in the other eight men who were told they would not view the funny video.

The levels of stress-inducing hormones increasingly dropped (and for the stress-reducers, rose) at a progressively greater rate as the date of the humorous experiment approached.

Previously, Berk and his team found that anticipating a funny video changed the subjects' mood states. In addition, Berk has shown that watching humorous videos decreased some stress hormones and increased the activity of specific white blood cells called natural killer cells that specialize in killing virally infected cells and tumor cells.

"The anticipation of a funny event changes mood states, which appears to trigger profound physiological changes in the body," Berk said. "These mood and body changes also lasted well after the actual event. Optimism and expectation or anticipation of positive experiences appear to help in recovery from illness, supporting the reality that there may be a biology to the concept of hope." Berk and his colleagues continue to look at the relationships between mood, behavior and prevention and effective treatment for a wide range of diseases.

Berk's colleagues in the study include Dr. David Felten, executive director of the Susan Samueli Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and Dr. Stanley Tan of the Oakcrest Research Institute and James Westengard of Loma Linda University School of Medicine.
-end-
A complete archive of press releases is available on the World Wide Web at www.today.uci.edu.

University of California - Irvine

Related Stress Articles from Brightsurf:

Stress-free gel
Researchers at The University of Tokyo studied a new mechanism of gelation using colloidal particles.

Early life stress is associated with youth-onset depression for some types of stress but not others
Examining the association between eight different types of early life stress (ELS) and youth-onset depression, a study in JAACAP, published by Elsevier, reports that individuals exposed to ELS were more likely to develop a major depressive disorder (MDD) in childhood or adolescence than individuals who had not been exposed to ELS.

Red light for stress
Researchers from the Institute of Industrial Science at The University of Tokyo have created a biphasic luminescent material that changes color when exposed to mechanical stress.

How do our cells respond to stress?
Molecular biologists reverse-engineer a complex cellular structure that is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS

How stress remodels the brain
Stress restructures the brain by halting the production of crucial ion channel proteins, according to research in mice recently published in JNeurosci.

Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.

How plants handle stress
Plants get stressed too. Drought or too much salt disrupt their physiology.

Stress in the powerhouse of the cell
University of Freiburg researchers discover a new principle -- how cells protect themselves from mitochondrial defects.

Measuring stress around cells
Tissues and organs in the human body are shaped through forces generated by cells, that push and pull, to ''sculpt'' biological structures.

Cellular stress at the movies
For the first time, biological imaging experts have used a custom fluorescence microscope and a novel antibody tagging tool to watch living cells undergoing stress.

Read More: Stress News and Stress Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.