Whether a person is experiencing physical illness or just feeling a little glum - a giggle, a chuckle or an all-out belly laugh can always brighten spirits and sometimes seems to have an effect on the body as well. In fact, many people subscribe to the belief that "laughter is the best medicine," and in some cases, it appears this may be true. Take a look at how laughter can affect various areas of the human body.

Laughter and Heart Health

Generating an increase in blood flow and improved blood vessel function, laughter may help protect individuals from heart attack and other cardiovascular troubles. Laughter is also said to reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) and epinephrine, a hormone that plays a key role in heart failure and hypertension.

Effects of Laughter on the Immune System

It has been found that the convulsions experienced with laughter help to circulate lymph fluid throughout the body. Through this process, waste products are removed from organs and tissues, and the immune system is enhanced.

Laughter's Influence on Memory

Studies show that laughter may improve creativity, alertness and memory. One explanation for this is that humor stimulates both hemispheres of the brain, involving the entire organ. A study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School showed that the addition of humor during classroom instruction led to higher test scores.

Possible Effect of Laughter on Diabetes

One study of 19 subjects with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. The participants were fed a meal and then asked to attend a tedious lecture. The next day, the group consumed the same meal followed with a funny movie. Measurements showed significantly lower blood sugar levels after watching the movie than after attending the lecture.

Laughter and Breast Cancer

It has been found that laughter can enhance quality of life in breast cancer survivors possibly through the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that block pain and bring feelings of pleasure.

A Korean study examined the effects of laughter therapy on levels of depression, quality of life, resilience and immune response in breast cancer survivors from August to November of 2009.

The 37 breast cancer survivors had completed chemotherapy and radiation treatment. During the course of the study, the 16 participants in the experimental group participated in laughter therapy two times per week for 60 minutes. Questionnaires were used to measure pretest and post-test levels of depression, quality of life and resilience, and blood tests measured changes in immune response.

It was found that laughter therapy was effective in increasing the quality of life and resilience in breast cancer survivors, but there was no significant difference in depression levels and immune response.

One breast cancer survivor, Linda Ellerbee has said, "A good time to laugh is any time you can."

Here are some ways to bring more laughter into your life:

  • Check out your local comedy club
  • Watch funny movies.
  • Listen to humorous books on disc on your way to and from work.
  • Spend time around small children they say and do the funniest things.

Through its boost to the immune system and the production of pleasure-inducing endorphins, laughter is an effective way to make a body feel both psychologically and physically better. While it is difficult to measure the exact effects of laughter on physical illness, most people would agree that laughter is good for the soul.