Laughter May Be the Best Medicine
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Jan. 20, 2006— It's been said that laughter is the best medicine, but no one has yet proven it. Now a Japanese scientist is unlocking the secrets of the funny bone, which he believes can cheer up people's genes.
Geneticist Kazuo Murakami has teamed up on the study with an unlikely research partner: stand-up comedians, who he hopes can turn their one-liners into efficient, low-cost medical treatment.
Genes are usually regarded as immutable, but in reality more than 90 percent of them are dormant or less active in producing protein, so some types of stimulation can wake them up.
Murakami's tentative theory is that laughter is one such stimulant, which can trigger energy inside a person's DNA potentially helping cure disease.
"If we prove people can switch genes on and off by an emotion like laughter, it may be the finding of the century which should be worth the Nobel Prize or even go beyond that," said Murakami, 70, director of Japan's Foundation for Advancement of International Science.
Three years ago, Murakami and Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. Ltd., a leading entertainment company, jointly carried out their first experiment to let diabetics laugh at a comedy show performed by the firm's top stand-up comedians after listening to a monotonous college lecture.
The two-day experiment showed that their blood glucose levels, a key gauge for development of diabetes, became lower after they laughed compared with after listening to the lecture.
His latest experiment with the entertainment firm spotted at least 23 genes that can be activated. Eighteen of them are designed to work for immune response, signal transduction and cell cycle, while functions of the remaining five are still unknown.
The findings, which Murakami says are the first of their kind, are scheduled to be published in January by the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
"A laughing therapy has no side-effect, meaning it is an epoch-making treatment for clinical medicine," he said. "One day it won't be a joke to see patients receive a prescription for a comedy video at a pharmacy for medical treatment."
Having a good laugh has long been thought of as therapeutic. Laughter has been taught by yoga masters in India, home to a growing number of "laughing clubs" whose members get together just to enjoy a chuckle.
Expectations from Murakami's research are particularly high in Japan, where medicare costs are increasing year after year as the country rapidly ages.
Even with the research still in its early stages, a Japanese medical publisher, under the editorial guidance of Murakami's research team, began selling DVDs last year instructing patients with diabetes how to laugh.
The ministry of economy, trade and industry believes that laughter therapy could be put to good use in a project as demand grows for preventive medical care.
"If the relation between laughter and health is proved scientifically, it may have a big impact on ways to improve health," said Hikaru Horiguchi, a ministry official.
"We also hope that a new type of industry will be created by linking the two different fields — laughter and medical treatment," Horiguchi said.