GOOD MEDICINE? “A joyful heart is good medicine,” Proverbs 17:22 tells us, and now there appears to be medical evidence to support this, according to a Loma Linda University professor. [ANN Photo/Reger C. Smith, Jr.]
Nearly 85 percent of people who visit their primary healthcare physicians do so because of a stress-related disease. More people are on anti-depressants than at any other time in the history of medicine. And it’s probably no surprise that stress has proven to be deadly to the immune system. This according to Dr. Lee Berk, associate professor in the Schools of Public Health and Medicine at Loma Linda University in California.
In an increasingly stressful world, what is one to do? Laugh, apparently. That’s funny, you say? Well, studies have shown that it’s no laughing matter — or perhaps it actually is. Laughing is at the heart of a serious issue about bio-translation — how your biology translates the good stuff in life, says Dr. Berk.
In his studies, Dr. Berk was able to assess mood states. Do they change when people are enjoying laughter and happiness? he asked. “Yes, they did. There was less depression, less anxiety, more vigor.” The studies showed that laughter can lower detrimental stress hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. Laughter also enhances endorphins, which can elevate your mood, and optimizes various immune system components.
“One of the components of the immune system that is benefited greatly is NK cells — natural killer cells. During laughter, the NK cell activity is increased. NK cells go after and kill virally-infected cells and some types of tumor cells,” the doctor explains.
These realizations caused him to stumble into the anticipation issue.
Looking forward to a day of rest, or going out and eating with a good friend or spouse, causes you to start experiencing and enjoying a positive experience even before it happens, Dr. Berk explains. “That anticipation or expectation really translates at a biological level.
“There are chemical mechanisms of communication between the brain, central nervous system, hormone system, and immune system, and how they all talk to each other,” he says. If you go for a root canal, you experience sweaty palms and nervousness. “But the reciprocal for positive emotions is very true also,” he says. “When we experience the anticipation of positive events, we benefit from that.”
Stress hormones, he says, are lowered by anticipating a positive event. And, ironically, he says the words “anticipation” and “expectation” are synonyms for the word “hope,” which has significant meaning for Adventists who have the hope of Christ’s soon return to the earth.
So bad translates into bad, but good translates into good. What we focus on perhaps should be a laughing matter. It’s “bio-translating for better health and happiness.”
In a Jan. 3 devotional talk for employees at the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s world headquarters, Pastor Jan Paulsen, world church president, spoke on the importance of laughter. Reflecting on 2005, a year with many natural disasters and civil unrest around the globe, Paulsen said, “Some serious, sober, even somber reflections would be in order. I thought, however, I would say a word or two about laughter.
“After all, a wise man says ‘Just as it is time to mourn and weep, let’s not forget that it’s good to laugh also.'”
Laughing is important to health, he said, but more importantly, perhaps, is to “reach out to people in need. Be an instrument of healing.” How? “Be good to others,” he suggested, and this “will ultimately make you and me kinder and happier.”
Pastor Paulsen added, “May God bless each of us as we go into a new year and resolve that we will not only express our own happiness [but] allow it to bubble, even if it needs to be noisy at times. You can do that — it’s alright. A good way to live life is to care about people and be an instrument of somebody else’s happiness.”
Nearly 150 years ago, one of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s founders, Ellen G. White, wrote in a book, Ministry of Healing, “The relation that exists between the mind and the body is very intimate. When one is affected, the other sympathizes. The condition of the mind affects the health to a far greater degree than many realize. Many of the diseases from which men suffer are the result of mental depression. Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces and to invite decay and death.”
Dr. Berk says he was “blown away” when he read this. His conclusion? “We have to stop being so serious about the negative things in life.”
The passage continues: “Disease is sometimes produced, and is often greatly aggravated, by the imagination. Many are lifelong invalids who might be well if they only thought so. Many imagine that every slight exposure will cause illness, and the evil effect is produced because it is expected. Many die from disease, the cause of which is wholly imaginary.
“Courage, hope, faith, sympathy, love, promote health and prolong life. A contented mind, a cheerful spirit, is health to the body and strength to the soul. ‘A merry [rejoicing] heart doeth good like a medicine.’ Proverbs 17:22.
“In the treatment of the sick the effect of mental influence should not be overlooked. Rightly used, this influence affords one of the most effective agencies for combating disease,” White concludes.
It’s not just about laughter, of course. Dr. Berk lists five things that begin the process of producing a stress-resistant brain: a belief system (belief in a higher being), social interaction, humor, exercise and intimacy. But laughter has a lot to do with it. In the Dec. 30 International Herald Tribune, Dr. Berk said, “If you could encapsulate laughter in a pill form, it would not only require FDA approval but would be in every medicine cabinet in America.”
Perhaps this could be translated globally, because laughter is a universal language. Dr. Berk says, “We jog for no reason other than the health benefits, so why not laugh for no reason because there are health benefits?”
So, go ahead: You have the doctor’s permission to laugh. And if you must be serious about something, be serious about laughter.