NEW ORLEANSThe connection between the body, mind and spirit has been the subject of conventional scientific inquiry for some 20 years. The notion that psychosocial and societal considerations have a role in maintaining health and preventing disease became crystallized as a result of the experiences of a layman, Norman Cousins. In the 1970s, Cousins, then a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He theorized that if stress could worsen his condition, as some evidence suggested at the time, then positive emotions could improve his health. As a result, he prescribed himself, with the approval of his doctor, a regimen of humorous videos and shows like Candid Camera. Ultimately, the disease went into remission and Cousins wrote a paper that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and a book about his experience, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient's Perspective, which was published in 1979. The book became a best seller and led to the investigation of a new field, known then as whole-person care or integrative medicine and now, lifestyle medicine.
The unscientific foundation that was laid down by Cousins was taken up by many medical researchers including the academic medical researcher Dr. Lee Berk in the l980s. In earlier work, Berk and his colleagues discovered that the anticipation of "mirthful laughter" had surprising and significant effects. Two hormones beta-endorphins (the family of chemicals that elevates mood state) and human growth hormone (HGH; which helps with optimizing immunity) increased by 27% and 87 % respectively in study subjects who anticipated watching a humorous video. There was no such increase among the control group who did not anticipate watching the humorous film. In another study, they found that the same anticipation of mirthful laughter reduced the levels of three detrimental stress hormones. Cortisol (termed "the steroid
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American Physiological Society