Medical memo: Hearty humor
The mind and body are inseparable aspects of the human organism, two sides of the precious coin called mankind. Physical health has a powerful influence on mental outlook. The reverse is also true, but scientists who study the mind-body connection typically focus on the link between negative emotions and cardiovascular illness. They have learned, for example, that stress raises blood pressure and increases cardiac risk, that hostility and anger can be truly heartbreaking, and that depression and social isolation contribute to heart attacks and impair recovery and rehabilitation.
It's easy to see why doctors study illness, but there is another piece of the puzzle that also deserves attention. No less an authority than Charlie Chaplin observed that "Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease from pain." It's one thing for a comic genius to tout the benefits of a good laugh, but another for scientists to confirm that humor really is good medicine. Now, however, doctors at the University of Maryland have taken a step in that direction.
Studies of actual heart attacks or strokes require a large number of patients, take a long time, and cost a lot of money. Fortunately, there are useful ways to evaluate cardiovascular health in the laboratory. One of the newest and most sophisticated methods is to monitor endothelial function.