Researchers say a sustained belly laugh my have a beneficial effect on blood pressure.
by Peggy Peck, Executive Editor, MedPage Today
NEW ORLEANS, May 15 — A sustained belly laugh, not a simple titter, giggle, or snicker, may have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, researchers here reported.
In an observational study of 200 healthy normotensive IT call-center workers in Mumbai, India, 20-minute laugh-yoga sessions were associated with significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, Madan Kataria, M.D., reported at the American Society of Hypertension meeting.
Dr. Kataria, a private practice physician in New York and India, said the laughter therapy involved breathing exercises along with laughter that starts as a gentle “hee, hee, hee” and builds to a raucous “ha, ha, ha.”
Explain to interested patients that this study suggested that laughter combined with a yoga breathing technique may lower blood pressure in healthy patients, but it did not examine the technique in patients with hypertension.
Note that this study was published as an abstract and presented orally at a conference. These data and conclusions should be considered to be preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
In the study, half the volunteers participated in seven 20-minute “laugh groups” over three weeks, and the other half were randomized to a wait list and served as controls.
Mean baseline systolic pressure was 128 mm Hg in the laugh-yoga group versus 126 mm Hg in the controls. Baseline diastolic pressures were 82 mm Hg in both groups. Stress was assessed at baseline and after the intervention by cortisol level, as well as by the Positive and Negative Stress Scale and the Perceived Stress Scale.
After the treatment, mean systolic pressure decreased by about 7 mm Hg in the laugh group versus no change in the control group (P<0.01) and diastolic pressure decreased by 3 mm Hg versus no change in the control group (P<0.05), Dr. Kataria said.
Laughter, he said, was an antidote to stress and “these IT workers, although healthy, have very stressful jobs.” He noted that laughter was also associated with a significant reduction in cortisol levels (P<0.001).
At the same time, participants in the laugh group had an 18% improvement in positive emotions and a 28% reduction in negative emotions (P<0.001 for both) and a significant reduction in perceived stress scale score (P<0.01).
Asked whether laughter-yoga required a good sense of humor, Dr. Kataria said, “it’s not about humor or being funny. It’s about exercising the diaphragm with laughter.”
Sandra J. Taler, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., commented that the study, while interesting, lacked rigor.
She noted, for example, that the blood pressure readings were “just taken in an office without a strict protocol.” She said the data would be more convincing if 24-hour blood pressure monitors had been used.
Moreover, she said that there have been a number of studies that have found breathing exercises by themselves can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure.
Dr. Kataria, who as founder of the Dr. Kataria School of Laughter Yoga, has a financial interest in laughter, he said. He has organized about 6,000 “laughter clubs” that meet in 60 cities worldwide, including several that meet in New York, although they are “not comedy clubs.”
Primary source: American Society of Hypertension
Source reference: Kataria M, et al “The effects of Hearty Extended Unconditional (HEU) laughter using yoga laughter techniques on physiological, psychological, and immunological parameters in the workplace: A randomized controlled trial” HRS Meeting 2008; Abstract P-129.
Reviewed by Robert Jasmer, MD; Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
Published: May 15, 2008
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