Humor and Laughter for Health with Sherry Hilber, Margaret Stuber and Lonnie Zeltzer

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Join Sherry Hilber, Dr. Margaret Stuber and Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, the driving forces behind a study of the medicinal value of laughter in children, in this special WebMD round table event.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's World Watch and Health News Auditorium. Today we are discussing Humor and Laughter for Health with Sherry Hilber, Margaret Stuber, MD, and Lonnie Zeltzer, MD. Sherry Hilber, who conceptualized and founded Rx Laughter, is an entertainment industry executive who has worked for CBS and ABC. Dr. Margaret Stuber is a cancer researcher and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer is a UCLA cancer researcher, professor of Pediatrics and Anesthesiology, and director of the Pediatric Pain Program at the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA.

Sherry Hilber, Dr. Stuber and Dr. Zeltzer, welcome to WebMD Live.

Dr. Zeltzer: I'm excited that the three of us are together to talk not only about the Rx Laughter project, but also more broadly about the role of humor and laughter in health and illness. Maybe we could start with Sherry talking about the whole concept behind the Rx Laughter concept.

Hilber: One of the things that I noticed for other people as well as for myself is that whenever I would go to the doctor, whether it be for outpatient or surgery, there was fear and anxiety. Once we were there at the hospital, I noticed there was a lack of focus on psychological and spiritual aspects of their healing. It seems to me that right now hospitals are becoming more interested in promoting well-being than in the past. That motivated me to believe that now is more of an opportune time to bring Rx Laughter to a hospital like UCLA. That had a lot to do with why I thought Rx Laughter was going to serve a need. Rx Laughter is a project that's going to try and discern how humor can hopefully improve the immune system of children and adolescents for this particular five year project at UCLA, reduce pain, manage pain in specific ways and therapeutically help the patient emotionally. This ties in with fact that if you feel better psychologically, hopefully you'll feel better physically. We are using as our resource funny television series and films, mostly classic ones such as Abbot and Costello, Marx Brothers and others.

Dr. Zeltzer: Dr. Stuber, can you talk about the science end of where you're trying to take this?

Dr. Stuber: As a psychiatrist, it's obvious to me that people's attitude makes a difference in how they approach medical illness. We're trying to see if humor can assist the healing process. We're interested in looking at what physiologic changes happen when they are laughing and when they're not laughing but amused. We want to see whether there are actual immunologic changes in children when they are responding to humor. We're hoping that if there are some changes, not only temporary but long lasting changes, that these could be used to promote healing of children who are receiving medical care at UCLA and other Children's Hospitals.

Dr. Zeltzer: How much do we know about the impact that laughter and humor have on people's physical well-being? We all know we tend to feel better after or while we are watching something funny, but what do we know about what's going on inside our bodies when we feel like this?

Dr. Stuber: The information we have right now is relatively limited. There are lots of stories, anecdotal evidence that laughter is the best medicine, as the Reader's Digest has said for many years. We have a center at UCLA that was founded by Norman Cousins to really explore the whole area of the interrelationship of the brain and the body with a specific emphasis on humor. However, most of the research that's been done that has scientific validity has focused on the other side, the stress side, rather than positive emotions. The research that has been done with positive emotion has been mostly with adults and most of it has focused on AIDS and cancer.

Dr. Zeltzer: I remember reading that there are some studies in healthy adults in laboratory settings where these adults, maybe seven or eight, would be set in front of a video watching something funny and have blood samples taken before and after. I found it interesting that some of the same chemicals in the body that were elevated after watching the funny videos are the same chemicals that are part of the body's natural pain control system and are similar to some of the neurotransmitters that play a role in mood.




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