Sixty-year-old Anil Harnathka, a businessman from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, practises laughter therapy for diabetes management every alternate day along with his 54-year-old wife Vinita Harnathka at their residence. They had stumbled upon laughter therapy during a visit to Bengaluru where they attended a ten-day naturopathy module.
Anil is diabetic. Constantly being stressed out took a toll on his health and daily routines, he recalls.
“I have observed when you are stressed and often don’t keep a tab on your diet, your sugar tends to increase. Laughter therapy destresses you which helps you lower your stress and sugar levels. It also keeps you in an upbeat mood,” he explains.
Anil still relies on his diabetes medication. But he has made laughter therapy a part of his life. He reckons while the sugar levels don’t drastically reduce with laughter therapy, they do show a decline. But more importantly, laughing boosts one’s spirit.
He is not alone in his pursuit. Many people are now resorting to various stress-busting methods including laughter therapy in an attempt to keep them upbeat and motivated to maintain and manage their health.
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Dr Ramesh Goyal, senior consultant and head of department, endocrinology and metabolism, Apollo Hospitals, Ahmedabad, views laughter therapy as a supportive therapy for the management of diabetes. “We could include assistive therapies like laughter which can help people with diabetes in effectively managing it,” he explains.
Mumbai-based Dr Madan Kataria who is the founder president of Laughter Yoga International points out that there have been multiple studies that have proved the benefits of laughter in people with diabetes.
“Japanese genetic researchers like Kazuo Murakami had identified 23 genes that can be activated with laughter. In addition, it also reduces the stress hormone cortisol responsible for the increase in sugar levels, in effect lowering the blood sugar. It also stabilises the immune system, which if weakened can affect the production of insulin in the pancreas,” says Dr Kataria.
Guntur-based endocrinologist Dr VV Ramakumar loves a good laugh and has been advising diabetics to do the same along with medication. He even started a doctor’s comedy club in Guntur where people meet up to have a laugh and explore laughter yoga.
Taking a leaf out of Kazuo Murakami’s research, Dr Ramakumar decided to do a preliminary study involving nine people to check the effects of laughter therapy. Dr Ramakumar took the blood sugar reading of these subjects before the laughter session and then after 25 minutes of laughter.
It was observed that the blood sugar levels reduced in five of them. One person was also made to use a continuous glucose monitor equipment and his sugar levels dropped from 253 to 217 after 25 minutes of laughter yoga.
“Practising laughter yoga helps but that doesn’t mean you should completely rely on it or stop your medication,” cautions Dr Ramakumar.
Dr Ramakumar couldn’t continue the study due to the pandemic, but now intends to do extensive research on the subject once he gets the required approvals.
Can laughing lower your blood sugar?
According to Dr Goyal, when people laugh, good hormones like endorphin and serotonin are produced; they improve the natural killer cells (that kill tumour cells and virus-infected cells) that are dysfunctional in people with diabetes.
Another advantage is that it even improves cardiovascular health in people with diabetes.
In an article published in the journal Biomedical Research, a study by Murakami observed that out of the 41,000 genes analysed, laughter relatively up-regulated (increased the responsiveness of the cells to laughter which worked as a stimulus) 39 genes, among which, 27 genes were relatively increased in the expression for all the observation period after watching a comic video. Out of these, 14 genes were found to be related to natural killer cell activity. Also, a successive suppression of postprandial blood glucose levels was observed.
According to an article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine in June 2016, laughter was also cited as beneficial to reduce multiple cardiovascular complications and also boost blood circulation which could have a positive impact on people with diabetes, especially the ones with neuropathic complications.
Dr Santosh Sahi, a retired gynaecologist who now runs the Delhi Academy of Laughter Yoga explains that laughter therapy helps because when you laugh, on the one hand, your muscles are getting exercised and, on another level, oxytocin hormone (a feel-good hormone) is released.
She explains that the body cannot differentiate between unreal and real laughter. So the effect of both is the same. “Real laughter usually doesn’t last as long as self-induced laughter,’’ she explains.
Benefits of laughter therapy for diabetes
Dr Sahi points out that some people with diabetes might have physical limitations to doing rigorous workouts. Complementary benign therapies can help in such cases. “It is something you can do anywhere in your own time and without the help of any special equipment or a specific gym wear,” she explains.
Dr Saini gives tips on how to practise laughter therapy.
- The laughter should come from the stomach
- Use the abdominal muscles while laughing. It is like internal jogging. It is good for the pancreas and enhances blood circulation
- Laughter therapy when followed by pranayama (breathing exercise) further benefits the body by oxygenating the cells. It also helps lower blood pressure