Cancer: laughter therapy to reduce pain

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Cancer: laughter therapy to reduce pain

Anxiety, stress and depression affect cancer patients. According to a Japanese study, one of the effective solutions to improve their quality of life has been found: laughter.

A laugh is the cause of a multitude of reactions in the body that are beneficial to our health. In addition to the good mood it evokes, it relaxes the diaphragm muscle, releases tension and triggers the production of substances linked to well-being – endorphins, or “happiness hormones”.

According to a preliminary study published in the scientific journal PLOS One at the end of June, laughter therapy would also help cancer patients improve their quality of life.

Laughter therapy

“The people of Osaka, Japan, like to laugh and make people laugh. We wanted to prove the relationship between this fact and their quality of life,” the author of the study, Toshitaka Morishima of the Osaka International Institute of Cancer, told PsyPost. The researchers conducted the trial with 56 patients aged 40 to 64 years who had been diagnosed with cancer. At random, some participants were in the control group. Others received laughter therapy every two weeks, for a total of four sessions.

These sessions included a laughter yoga routine, a “group practice involving voluntary laughter, a body exercise including stretching, applause and body movements,” describe the researchers. This was followed by a Rakugo (literally “story that ends with a funny fall”), a form of Japanese comedy performed by a single counter, or by a Manzai, a traditional comedy show featuring an established comedy duo that exchanges jokes very quickly.

In parallel, the quality of life of the volunteers was assessed using a questionnaire from the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer. Ultimately, laughter therapy was associated with improvements in self-reported cognitive functioning and pain reduction in patients who benefited from it compared to the control group.

A beneficial non-invasive intervention

Results that scientists explain through several mechanisms: “Positive emotions induced or accompanied by laughter may have allowed patients to reduce stress response and reduce tension by reducing stress-inducing hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine and growth hormones; this in turn may have a positive effect on patients’ cognitive functioning,” they write. As for the reduction of pain, “previous studies have shown that the treatment of laughter increases pain tolerance and reduces its perception through physiological mechanisms of analgesia involving the release of endorphins”.

Laughter therapy could thus represent a “beneficial non-invasive complementary intervention”, they believe. Further research will be needed to confirm these hypotheses, and to determine whether regular laughing also extends the life span of patients. “When people are diagnosed with cancer, they should not forget to laugh,” concludes Toshitaka Morishima.



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