I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, "laughter is the best medicine”, right?
Well, it turns out that when it comes to improving age-related memory loss, laughter may indeed prove to be a valuable therapy, and a 2014 study from Loma Lind University in California may hold the key as to why laughter works so well.
The research team led by Dr. Gurinder Singh Bains, presented their findings at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.1
And according to the researchers, humor appears to reduce brain damage caused by the stress hormone cortisol, which as it turns out – can improve memory.
Can Stress Destroy Your Memory?
Most people are aware that stress can have a negative impact on your health.
In fact, a recent article published in Medical News discusses a study that suggested that stress may even worsen allergies.2
In other research it was discovered that stress may also make the brain more prone to mental illness.3
But these aren’t the only studies that show just how harmful stress can be.
Prior studies have also shown that stress can affect memory and a person’s ability to learn, especially the elderly.
The reason that stress can be so destructive is that the stress response increases the body’s production of cortisol – a hormone that can damages nerve cells.
The Ultimate Stress Reliever?
There’s no denying that laughter makes us feel better.
It also has the effect of lowering your stress.
And for this reason, researchers wanted to determine if humor actually reduced the brain damage caused by cortisol.
To begin, researchers analyzed one group of elderly men and women who were diabetic and another group of elderly men and women who were in good health.
Each group was asked to review a 20-minute funny video, prior to completing a memory test that measured their visual recognition, learning ability and memory recall.
A third group of elderly men and women were then asked to complete the same memory test, without watching the funny video.
Afterwards the team compared results.
Prior to the testing each participant’s starting cortisol levels were measured.
Afterward, researchers found that both groups who watched the funny video prior to testing showed significantly lower levels of cortisol afterward, when compared to the group who didn’t.
Those that watched the funny video also had better test scores. Including greater memory recall, learning ability and sight recognition.
What’s more, the group with diabetes showed the biggest improvement in both cortisol levels and their memory test scores.
Can Humor Improve Your Quality of Life?
One of the study’s co-authors Dr. Lee Burk suggested that these findings show that the less stress a person experiences the better their memory will be and he suggests that humor may play a key role.
"Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state," he went on to explain.
"The act of laughter - or simply enjoying some humor - increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward."
He also stated that neurochemical changes in the brain also increase "gamma wave band frequency," which can boost memory.
"So, indeed," he added, "laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life."
Dr. Bain is hopeful that these findings may lead to more effective programs aimed at helping the elderly.
He says, "the cognitive components - learning ability and delayed recall - become more challenging as we age and are essential to older adults for an improved quality of life: mind, body and spirit.
Although older adults have age-related memory deficits, complimentary, enjoyable and beneficial humor therapies need to be implemented for these individuals."
So, while this study is just the beginning, it offers hope to many elderly men and women who are struggling with their cognitive ability.