If “laughter is the best medicine,” what side effects might be listed on its warning labels?
Some medicines can be toxic and harmful at the wrong dosages and dangerous for people with certain susceptibility factors. Could the same be said for laughter?
Laughter is not perfectly harmless. The risks are extremely low, but they do exist. Cases of negative health effects from laughter have been reported, but they are rare.
Most of the time, laughter is nothing more than an excellent way to lighten the mood and make us feel better. It can relieve stress, tension, and pain, and it is more likely to extend our lifespans than shorten them.
Potential Harms Associated With Laughter
Laughing involves sharp inhalations, and exhalations of air can potentially let in germs and other contaminants. If you are laughing with someone sick with a virus, for example, you might be at risk of catching their illness. Or you might spread your contagious germs to them.
For patients with asthma, laughing – and other big emotions like crying and excitement – can sometimes trigger an attack. Laughing too hard might also be associated with asphyxiation and suffocation. However, these cases are likely the result of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) overdose, an anesthetic that is sometimes used in dental procedures.
In one reported case, a woman born with a heart defect (patent foramen ovale) suffered a stroke after an extended bout of laughter.
A strong belly laugh can also possibly cause a hernia to protrude.
It’s important to emphasize again that these risks are extremely rare. Cases in which laughter can be directly linked to adverse health consequences are noteworthy precisely because they are unusual.
Potential Benefits Associated With Laughter
Don’t let these rare cases scare you away from having a good time. The benefits of laughter significantly outpace the risks.
Not only does it improve life satisfaction and overall wellbeing, but laughter might also extend your life.
People who have a low frequency of laughter also tend to possess multiple risk factors of cardiovascular disease, affecting longevity.
Laughter reduces arterial stiffness, improves endothelial function, and lowers your risk of myocardial infarction (heart attacks).
Laughing can also increase pain threshold and tolerance and reduce stress levels. You’ll burn a few extra calories too.
Even self-induced or simulated laughter appears to have a beneficial effect on blood pressure and cortisol levels.
So the risks are low, and the rewards are high. Go and laugh with your friends, or by yourself, watch a funny movie, listen to a comedian, or think up your funny ideas. And don’t worry too much about the rare cases where laughter has had negative consequences. Laughter is, overall, a healthy and enjoyable emotion.