Archive for the ‘Eastern Medicine’ Category


ASEAN launches infectious diseases information site

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has launched a new website for nations to compare notes on infectious diseases threatening the region.

The ASEAN Plus Three Countries website will help prevent deadly disease outbreaks by easing the exchange of information between ASEAN members and China, South Korea and Japan, the regional bloc said in a statement.

The website is being coordinated by Indonesia’s health ministry and will be jointly maintained by ASEAN, it said.

“Multilateral coordination which is mutually beneficial should be developed and maintained so it can continue, including through information exchange among nations,” Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara.

The minister’s backing of the website comes despite her highly publicised reticence over sharing information on the deadly bird flu virus.

Ms Supari has angered many abroad by refusing to routinely share virus samples with the World Health Organisation, saying she fears rich nations will use them to create vaccines unaffordable to Indonesians.

Ms Supari also said this month her ministry would no longer announce individual bird flu deaths to the media and has given conflicting statements about how often the public would be told of deaths.

Indonesia is the country worst-hit by the bird flu virus, with at least 108 people believed to have been killed by the virus. The most recent reported case, a 15-year-old girl, has not been confirmed by the minister.


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New controls considered for complementary medicines

Consumer advocates are pushing for new labelling laws for complementary medicines.

Consumer advocates are pushing for new labelling laws for complementary medicines. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin, file photo)

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More than half of Australians have used at least one complementary medicine, ranging from vitamins to treatment drugs for arthritis and weight loss.

But recent studies have raised doubts about the effectiveness of some top-selling remedies.

Consumer group Choice recently found the drug glucosamine, used to treat osteoarthritis, provided little benefit to sufferers.

Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn says the only effect is a placebo one.

“People who purchase it are convinced of its efficacy but in terms of the real science, we are far less convinced of that, and in fact we just advise people, you are much better off moving to lifestyle treatments, losing weight, doing exercise,” he said.

“This is actually going to get you better results than taking glucosamine.”

There are more than 16,000 complementary medicines listed on the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The national prescribing service is currently reviewing the information provided to consumers about such drugs.

Jan McLucas is the parliamentary secretary to the federal Health Minister and is responsible for complementary medicines

She says she’ll consider the report within the next two months.

“Information provided to consumers can really only be described as patchy,” she said.

“Some producers provide very good websites with information about their products.

“With other products it is quite difficult to find out firstly what is in them and how they will work.”

Senator McLucas says the Federal Government may introduce measures to help consumers make more informed choices about complementary medicines.

She says that may include tougher disclosure rules.

“A range of proposals have been put to the Government including increased labelling on the medications themselves,” she said.

“Another alternative is to look at a Government-run website which consumers would have confidence in.”

Another option being considered is a proposal by Choice for complementary medicines to be given the right to display a green tick – similar to the red tick used by the National Heart Foundation.

Mr Zinn says improvements to the industry are long overdue.

“There is no reason why complementary medicines should not be treated with the same, if not similar, scrutiny as other pharmaceuticals and something else we would like to see is that those medicines who do not choose this opting system with a green tick, have some sort of label on their packaging which says this medicine has not been evaluated by health authorities for efficacy,” he said.

Dr Ken Harvey, from the school of public health at the La Trobe University, has welcomed the Government’s proposals.

“Most complementary medicines are listed, which means they’re not evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Authority to see if they work,” he said.

“There is no approved product information for them, as there is for other medicines and there is no consumer medicines information either.

“So really there is no independent source of information about these medicines in Australia.”

Nobody from two of the biggest suppliers of complementary medicines, Symbion and Blackmores, was available today to respond to the criticism.

But Dr Wendy Morrow, the executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council, rejects suggestions the industry doesn’t provide consumers with adequate information.

She says the changes aren’t needed.

“The Complementary Healthcare Council believes that the Australian Therapeutic Goods legislation and regulations already provide consumers with one of the best practice and most scientifically rigorous regulatory frameworks for complementary medicines internationally,” she said.

“There have been two comprehensive government-initiated reviews of this system since 2003 and both of these substantially supported the existed risk-based regulatory framework, subject to minor modifications and that is something that we do support.”

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New test helps predict menopause

By Jane Cowan

There are already tests available to assess a woman's fertility, but they tend to measure only how fertile she is at the time of the test [File photo].

There are already tests available to assess a woman’s fertility, but they tend to measure only how fertile she is at the time of the test [File photo]. (Getty Images: Ian Waldie)

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With couples delaying having a family because of careers or other reasons, a Queensland statistician has come up with a mathematical model to predict when an individual woman will hit menopause.

Waiting to have children is a risky business, governed by how many eggs a woman has and when they happen to run out.

It is a game of numbers that Queensland University of Technology (QUT) mathematician Malcolm Faddy has turned his mind to.

“At the moment all we could say if a woman asked me when she was likely to experience menopause, all we could say in the absence of any other information, is that the median age which is 51 years,” he said.

But Professor Faddy has created a mathematical model that uses the levels of hormones in a woman’s blood to come up with a much more precise answer.

“I’ve used that data to develop a model which, on the basis of a woman’s age, current age, and the results of this, as say, lead to predictions of when she can expect to experience, if that is the right word, menopause,” he said.

There are already tests available to assess a woman’s fertility, but they tend to measure only how fertile she is at the time of the test, gauging whether her fertility has already started to decline.

Future gazing

This mathematical model aims to predict the future.

Dr Anne Clark, medical director of the fertility clinic Fertility First in Sydney, says there will be massive interest in the model.

“If this test is able to give a woman a more accurate prediction of when her fertility is likely to reduce in the future, then obviously, that would be a big advantage,” she said.

Dr Clark sees huge potential in this test for a generation of men and women who are tending to find partners in their early 30s instead of their 20s but still want children.

“Obviously it is fine to know that you are okay at the moment, but I mean you might not be okay in two years’ time.

“But if you had that information, you would potentially make different decisions.”

However, others have their doubts about the test.

False worry

Professor Michael Chapman, a fertility specialist at IVF Australia, says he knows of no biochemical test accurate enough to avoid producing – in some cases at least – false hope or false worry.

“I think that’s the risk and I would certainly like to see this test demonstrably proven,” he said.

“What they need to do is a prospective study which will take many years if they are really going to … end up being able to predict accurately a woman’s menopause.”

Professor Faddy hopes his model will eventually be able to predict menopause to within a couple of years.

But he admits a reliable test is a long way off.

A group of volunteer women in the Netherlands who have just had their hormones measured now need to be followed up in 10, 20 and 30 years’ time.

Certainly Professor Chapman does not suggest women start queuing at their GP’s door just yet.

“Basically we all know that fertility declines with age,” he said.

“The main message is women out there need, or couples actually, need to realise that the earlier that they try to have a baby, the more chance they have of getting that baby and putting the decision off based around some esoteric biochemical test, is a very dangerous move.”

Adapted from a story first aired on ABC Radio’s AM program on May 7, 2008.

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Humble vegie may end diabetes fight

By Thea Dikeos

The health benefits of bitter melon were noted 500 years ago in the writings of one of China's most revered medical scholars.

The health benefits of bitter melon were noted 500 years ago in the writings of one of China’s most revered medical scholars. (ABC TV)

Many people swear by the health benefits of Chinese traditional medicine, but often there are concerns such medicine may not have been subjected to rigorous scientific analysis.

Now in a groundbreaking partnership between East and West, Australia and China are analysing the reputed therapeutic effects of a traditional Chinese vegetable – the bitter melon.

Using high-end technology, researchers have been able to unlock its secrets and in the process may have found the basis for a new drug for type 2 diabetes.

At least once a week Sharman Wong prepares a traditional Chinese dish using the vegetable bitter melon.

The recipe comes from her grandmother, who also recommended a concoction of bitter melon juice to combat ailments.

Now her husband, a scientist at one of Australia’s largest medical research institutes in Sydney, is analysing the potential of this humble vegetable.

“Chinese medicine is a very rich source for finding new therapies for diseases, including diabetes,” Dr Jiming Ye said.

The health benefits of bitter melon were noted 500 years ago in the writings of one of China’s most revered medical scholars.

Since then, it has been credited by Chinese medicine practitioners as helping to cool the body, promote digestion and even brighten the eyes.

But many find its bitter taste hard to swallow. Today researchers are returning to these ancient texts in the hope of finding clues to combat modern diseases like diabetes.

Fighting diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has been identified by the Chinese Government as a ticking time bomb. Now it is estimated that by 2025, China will have one of the biggest diabetes problems in the world.

Four years ago, the Chinese Government sent a delegation to Australia to explore new research opportunities in diabetes medication.

The Garvan Institute’s Professor David James is a cell biologist specialising in diabetes. In Sydney, he heads up the team selected to work with the Chinese to analyse the properties of bitter melon.

“I think a lot of people thought this idea was a little bit weird to begin with,” he said.

“Maybe some people thought the Garvan Institute had lost the plot. We got the funds for the two big new instruments.

“Much of our modern medicines actually come from this very way, so aspirin and Metformin – which is one of the most commonly-used medications for diabetes – came from plants.”

A tonne of bitter melon was broken down to its most basic parts. Using a high-powered microscope, the team were able to identify several new compounds which when applied to muscle cells produced an important reaction.

What appears to be an explosion is actually the compound triggering the muscle cell to absorb glucose.

“When we give this compound to our mice just before a meal, we then give the meal, we find that they have a much more efficient removal of glucose from the blood compared to animals that have not been given the drug,” Professor James said.

The most significant observation was that there were no side effects in the mice with type 2 diabetes. The process is in its early stages and human trials are possibly a year away.

But the hope is that this new naturally occurring compound can be replicated in a laboratory and provide the basis for a new diabetes medicine.

“We have even taken out a patent on these molecules, which in a sense, it’s like Sir Edmund Hillary stabbing his flag on the top of Mount Everest so that’s how confident we are that it’s a world first,” Prof James said.

The potential benefits of bitter melon come as no surprise to Benny Fan of the Australian Chinese Medicine Association.

For 25 years he has been telling patients it can help with all manner of ailments.

“Not just diabetes, [but] for people keep slim, weight loss – even for the cholesterol,” he said.

A natural alternative

For the 500,000 Australians with the disease, tablets or injections are taken daily to regulate blood sugar.

Kathy Samaris has been working with type 2 diabetics for over a decade. She is well aware of the some of the side effects some patients experience with their medication.

“Some people can experience nausea, a low blood sugar level, but in its worst manifestations will cause a seizure,” she said.

“A lot of the drugs will cause weight gain which in people who are already struggling with their weight is a big added problem.”

Of course prevention of type 2 diabetes is the ideal approach, the key being weight loss and exercise.

But for Joseph Skrzynski, that was not enough.

“It was about five years ago and it was totally accidental,” he said.

“I actually lost my referral for a blood test and found an old one which actually had the laundry list of tests on, so I whizzed in with that but it came back saying I was a diabetic. So it was a total shock to me and my GP.”

Why he contracted the disease is still a mystery. He was not overweight and had no family history of type 2 diabetes.

More accustomed to investing in corporate ventures, his own health prompted him to put his own money behind the study.

“It mimics something we do in business in venture capital and private equity, which is finding different and novel way of doing things, Mr Skrzynski said.

But for all those type 2 diabetics who may be rushing out to take bitter melon, researchers stress caution and consultation with medical professionals.

“I think in general, with many of these sort of natural products, there’s a lot of uncertainty and we advocate that if ever you’re going to advise people to take some form of treatment, whether it’s a natural product or a prescription medication, there has to be scientific validity behind that recommendation,” Prof James said.

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Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter

Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system. To date their published studies have shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being.

Following is a summary of his research, taken from an interview published in the September/October 1996 issue of the Humor and Health Journal.

 Laughter Activates the Immune System

In Berk’s study, the physiological response produced by belly laughter was opposite of what is seen in classical stress, supporting the conclusion that mirthful laughter is a eustress state — a state that produces healthy or positive emotions.

Research results indicate that, after exposure to humor, there is a general increase in activity within the immune system, including:

bullet An increase in the number and activity level of natural killer cells that attack viral infected cells and some types of cancer and tumor cells.
bullet An increase in activated T cells (T lymphocytes). There are many T cells that await activation. Laughter appears to tell the immune system to “turn it up a notch.”
bullet An increase in the antibody IgA (immunoglobulin A), which fights upper respiratory tract insults and infections.
bullet An increase in gamma interferon, which tells various components of the immune system to “turn on.”
bullet An increase in IgB, the immunoglobulin produced in the greatest quantity in body, as well as an increase in Complement 3, which helps antibodies to pierce dysfunctional or infected cells. The increase in both substances was not only present while subjects watched a humor video; there also was a lingering effect that continued to show increased levels the next day.

 Laughter Decreases “Stress” Hormones

The results of the study also supported research indicating a general decrease in stress hormones that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity. These were shown to decrease in the study group exposed to humor.

For example, levels of epinephrine were lower in the group both in anticipation of humor and after exposure to humor. Epinephrine levels remained down throughout the experiment.

In addition, dopamine levels (as measured by dopac) were also decreased. Dopamine is involved in the “fight or flight response” and is associated with elevated blood pressure.

Laughing is aerobic, providing a workout for the diaphragm and increasing the body’s ability to use oxygen.

Laughter brings in positive emotions that can enhance – not replace — conventional treatments. Hence it is another tool available to help fight the disease.

Experts believe that, when used as an adjunct to conventional care, laughter can reduce pain and aid the healing process. For one thing, laughter offers a powerful distraction from pain.

In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, patients were told one-liners after surgery and before painful medication was administered. Those exposed to humor perceived less pain when compared to patients who didn’t get a dose of humor as part of their therapy.

Perhaps, the biggest benefit of laughter is that it is free and has no known negative side effects.

So, here is a summary of how humor contributes to physical health.  More details can be found in the article, Humor and Health contributed by Paul McGhee

Muscle Relaxation – Belly laugh results in muscle relaxation. While you laugh, the muscles that do not participate in the belly laugh, relaxes. After you finish laughing those muscles involved in the laughter start to relax. So, the action takes place in two stages.

Reduction of Stress Hormones – Laughter reduces at least four of neuroendocrine hormones associated with stress response. These are epinephrine, cortisol, dopac, and growth hormone.

Immune System Enhancement – Clinical studies have shown that humor strengthens the immune system.

Pain Reduction – Humor allows a person to “forget” about pains such as aches, arthritis, etc.

Cardiac Exercise – A belly laugh is equivalent to “an internal jogging.” Laughter can provide good cardiac conditioning especially for those who are unable to perform physical exercises.

Blood Pressure – Women seem to benefit more than men in preventing hypertension.

Respiration – Frequent belly laughter empties your lungs of more air than it takes in resulting in a cleansing effect – similar to deep breathing. Especially beneficial for patient’s who are suffering from emphysema and other respiratory ailments.


Humor Therapy

Other common name(s): Laugh Therapy

Scientific name(s): None


Humor therapy is the use of humor for the relief of physical or emotional pain and stress. It is used as a complementary method to promote health and cope with illness.


Although available scientific evidence does not support claims that laughter can cure cancer or any other disease, it can reduce stress and enhance a person’s quality of life. Humor has physical effects because it can stimulate the circulatory system, immune system, and other systems in the body.

How is it promoted for use?

Humor therapy is generally used to improve quality of life, provide some pain relief, encourage relaxation, and reduce stress. Researchers have described different types of humor. Passive humor results from seeing prepared material, such as a funny movie, standup comedy, or an amusing book. Spontaneous or unplanned humor involves finding humor in everyday situations. Being able to find humor in life can be helpful when dealing with cancer.

What does it involve?

The physical effects of laughter on the body include increased breathing, more oxygen use, and higher heart rate. Many hospitals and treatment centers have set up special rooms where humorous materials, and sometimes people, are placed to help make people laugh. Materials commonly used include movies, audio and videotapes, books, games, and puzzles. Many hospitals use volunteers who visit patients for the purpose of providing opportunities for laughter. A 1999 survey found that about 1 in 5 National Cancer Institute-designated treatment centers offered humor therapy.

What is the history behind it?

Humor has been used in medicine throughout recorded history. One of the earliest mentions of the health benefits of humor is in the book of Proverbs in the Bible. As early as the 13th century, some surgeons used humor to distract patients from the pain of surgery. Humor was also widely used and studied by the medical community in the early 20th century. In more modern times, the most famous story of humor therapy involved Norman Cousins, then editor of the Saturday Review. According to the story, Mr. Cousins cured himself of an unknown illness with a self-invented regimen of laughter and vitamins.

What is the evidence?

Available scientific evidence does not support humor as an effective treatment for cancer or any other disease; however, laughter has many benefits, including positive physical changes and an overall sense of well being. One study found the use of humor led to an increase in pain tolerance. It is thought laughter causes the release of special neurotransmitter substances in the brain (endorphins) that help control pain. Another study found that neuroendocrine and stress-related hormones decreased during episodes of laughter. These findings provide support for the claim that humor can relieve stress. More studies are needed to clarify the impact of laughter on health.

Are there any possible problems or complications?

Humor therapy is considered safe when used as along with conventional medical therapy. It can be harmful if used to avoid difficult or delicate issues that are important to you or your family. Laughter can also cause temporary pain after some types of surgery. This improves as the body heals, and causes no lasting harm.

Relying on this type of treatment alone, and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer, may have serious health consequences.

Additional Resources

More Information from Your American Cancer Society

The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).


Berk LS, Tan SA, Fry WF, et al. Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. Am J Med Sci. 1989;298:390-396.

Joshua AM, Cotroneo A, Clarke S. Humor and Oncology. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2005;23:645-648.


Simple put, laughter raises one’s frequency to help with the healing process. People who are ‘up’ positive personalities and laugh a lot generally have less physical problems than those who are depressed – wounded souls – who dwell in their issues and find it hard to laugh at life.

Effects of Laughter:

  • Laughter therapy boosts the interferon levels of the immune system which helps the system’s ability to fight illness and escalates healing. Laughter decreases stress hormones that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity.
  • Muscle Relaxation – Belly laugh results in muscle relaxation. While you laugh, the muscles that do not participate in the belly laugh, relaxes. After you finish laughing those muscles involved in the laughter start to relax. So, the action takes place in two stages.
  • Reduction of Stress Hormones – Laughter reduces at least four of neuroendocrine hormones associated with stress response. These are epinephrine, cortisol, dopac, and growth hormone.
  • Immune System Enhancement – Clinical studies have shown that humor strengthens the immune system.
  • Pain Reduction – Humor allows a person to “forget” about pains such as aches, arthritis, etc.
  • Cardiac Exercise – A belly laugh is equivalent to “an internal jogging.” Laughter can provide good cardiac conditioning especially for those who are unable to perform physical exercises.
  • Blood Pressure – Women seem to benefit more than men in preventing hypertension.
  • Respiration – Frequent belly laughter empties your lungs of more air than it takes in resulting in a cleansing effect – similar to deep breathing. Especially beneficial for patient’s who are suffering from emphysema and other respiratory ailments.

In modern times, the tendency is toward acceptance of incongruity as the probable cause of laughter, and incongruity-based theories are slowly gaining ground, although other schools of thought still hold some favour. A common explanation of humour (in the broader sense of ‘laughter-provoking’) is based on language. Premises: as we interpret a text, we automatically consider what language says, supposes, doesn’t say, and implies (this is the perspective of hermeneutics); the sentences we listen to and we tell, follow the universal conversational rules, that can be reduced to only one: be relevant.

Laughter and the Brain
Principal fissures and lobes of the cerebrum viewed laterally. Modern neurophysiology states that laughter is linked with the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which produces endorphins after a rewarding activity: after you have a good meal, after you have sexual intercourse and after you understand a joke. Research has shown that parts of the limbic system are involved in laughter[citation needed]. The limbic system is a primitive part of the brain that is involved in emotions and helps us with basic functions necessary for survival. Two structures in the limbic system are involved in producing laughter: the amygdala and the hippocampus[citation needed]. The December 7, 1984 Journal of the American Medical Association describes the neurological causes of laughter as follows:

    “Although there is no known ‘laugh centre’ in the brain, its neural mechanism has been the subject of much, albeit inconclusive, speculation. It is evident that its expression depends on neural paths arising in close association with the telencephalic and diencephalic centres concerned with respiration. Wilson considered the mechanism to be in the region of the mesial thalamus, hypothalamus, and subthalamus. Kelly and co-workers, in turn, postulated that the tegmentum near the periaqueductal grey contains the integrating mechanism for emotional expression. Thus, supranuclear pathways, including those from the limbic system that Papez hypothesised to mediate emotional expressions such as laughter, probably come into synaptic relation in the reticular core of the brain stem. So while purely emotional responses such as laughter are mediated by subcortical structures, especially the hypothalamus, and are stereotyped, the cerebral cortex can modulate or suppress them.”

Laughter and the body

The Heart
It has been shown that laughing helps protect the heart. Although studies are not sure why laughing protects the heart, the studies do explain that mental stress impairs the endothelium, which is the protective barrier lining a person¹s blood vessels. Once the endothelium is impaired, it can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to cholesterol build up in a person¹s coronary arteries, which can ultimately cause a heart attack.

From Psychologist Steve Sultanoff, Ph.D., the president of the American Association for Therapeutic Humor — With deep, heartfelt laughter, it appears that serum cortisol, which is a hormone that is secreted when we¹re under stress, is decreased. So when you¹re having a stress reaction, if you laugh, apparently the cortisol that has been released during the stress reaction is reduced. Laughter has been show to increase tolerance of pain and boost the body¹s production of infection-fighting antibodies, which can help prevent hardening of the arteries and subsequent conditions caused thereby such as angina, heart attacks, or strokes. Research shows that distressing emotions lead to heart disease. It is shown that people who are chronically angry and hostile have a greater likelihood for heart attack, people who ³live in anxious, stressed out lifestyles have greater blockages of their coronary arteries, and people who are chronically depressed have a two times greater change of heart disease.

A study in Japan shows that laughter lowers blood sugar after a meal. Keiko Hayashi, Ph.D., R.N, of the University of Tsukuba in Ibaraki, Japan, and his team performed a study of 19 people with type 2 diabetes. They collected the patients¹ blood before and two hours after a meal. The patients attending a boring 40 minute lecture after dinner on the first night of the study. On the second night, the patients attend a 40 minute comedy show. The patients¹ blood sugar went up after the comedy show, but much less that it did after the lecture. The study found that even when patients without diabetes did the same testing, a similar result was found. Scientists conclude that laughter is good for people with diabetes. They suggest that Œchemical messengers made during laughter may help the body compensate for the disease.² WebMD 2003

According to an article of WebMD, studies have shown that children who have a clown present prior to surgery along with their parents and medical staff had less anxiety than children who just had their parents and medical staff present. High levels of anxiety prior to surgery leads to a higher risk of complications following surgeries in children. According to researchers, about 60% of children suffer from anxiety before surgery. The study involved 40 children ages 5 to 12 who were about to have minor surgery. Half had a clown present in addition to their parents and medical staff, the other half only had their parents and medical staff present. The results of the study showed that the children who had a clown present had significantly less pre-surgery anxiety. – WebMD 2005

Nearly 2/3 of people with asthma reported having asthma attacks that were triggered by laughter, according to a study presented at the American Thoracic Society annual meeting in 2005. It did not seem to matter how deep of a laugh the laughter entailed, whether it be a giggle, chuckle, or belly laugh, says Stuart Garay, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at New York University Medical Center in New York. Patients were part of an 18 month long program who were evaluated for a list of asthma triggers. The patients did not have any major differences in age, duration of asthma, or family history of asthma. However, exercise-induced asthma was more frequently found in patients who also had laughter-induced asthma, according to the study. 61% of laughter induced asthma also reported exercise as a trigger, as opposed to only 35% without laughter-induced asthma. Andrew Ries, M.D. indicates that ³it probably involves both movements in the airways as well as an emotional reaction. – WebMD 2005

Laughter is Genetic
Robert R. Provine, Ph.D. has spent decades studying laughter. In his interview for WedMD, he indicated that laughter is a mechanism everyone has; laughter is part of universal human vocabulary. There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way. Everyone can laugh. Babies have the ability to laugh before they ever speak. Children who are born blind and deaf still retain the ability to laugh. Even apes have a form of Œpant-pant-pant¹ laughter. Laughter is primitive, an unconscious vocalization. And if it seems you laugh more than other, Provine argues that it probably is genetic. In a study of the ‘Giggle Twins,’ two exceptionally happy twins were separated at birth and not reunited until 40 years later. Provine reports that until they met each other, neither of these exceptionally happy ladies had known anyone who laughed as much as she did. They reported this even though they both had been reared by adoptive parents they indicated were undemonstrative and dour. Provine indicates that the twins inherited some aspects of their laugh sound and pattern, readiness to laugh, and perhaps even taste in humor.

Therapeutic Effects of Laughter

While it is normally only considered cliché that “laughter is the best medicine,” specific medical theories attribute improved health and well-being to laughter. A study demonstrated neuroendocrine and stress-related hormones decreased during episodes of laughter, which provides support for the claim that humor can relieve stress. Writer Norman Cousins wrote about his experience with laughter in helping him recover from a serious illness in 1979’s Anatomy of an Illness As Perceived by the Patient.

In 1989, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article, wherein the author wrote that “a humor therapy program can increase the quality of life for patients with chronic problems and that laughter has an immediate symptom-relieving effect for these patients, an effect that is potentiated when laughter is induced regularly over a period”.

Some therapy movements like Re-evaluation Counseling believe that laughter is a type of “bodily discharge”, along with crying, yawning and others, which requires encourgement and support as a means of healing.

Types of Therapy
There is well documented and ongoing research in this field of study. This has led to new and beneficial therapies practiced by doctors, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals using humor and laughter to help patients cope or treat a variety of physical, mental, and spiritual issues. The various therapies are not specific to health care professionals or clinicians. Some of the therapies can be practiced individually or in a group setting to aid in a person’s well-being. There seems to be something to the old saying “laughter is the best medicine”.

Humor Therapy:
It is also known as therapeutic humor. Using humorous materials such as books, shows, movies, or stories to encourage spontaneous discussion of the patients own humorous experiences. This can be provided individually or in a group setting. The process is facilitated by clinician. There can be a disadvantage to humor therapy in a group format, as it can be difficult to provide materials that all participants find humorous. It is extremely important the clinician is sensitive to laugh “with” clients rather than “at” the clients.

Clown Therapy:
Individuals that are trained in clown therapy, proper hygeine and hospital procedures. In some hospitals “clown rounds” are made. The clowns perform for others with the use of magic, music, fun, joy, and compassion. For hospitalized children, clown therapy can increase patient cooperation and decrease parental & patient anxiety. In some children the need for sedation is reduced. Other benefits include pain reduction and the increased stimulation of immune function in children. This use of clown therapy is not limited hospitals. They can transform other places where things can be tough such as nursing homes, orphanages, refugee camps, war zones, and even prisons. The presence of clowns tends to have a positive effect.

Laughter Therapy:
A client’s laughter triggers are identified such as people in their lives that make them laugh, things from childhood, situations, movies, jokes, comedians, basically anything that makes them laugh. Based on the information provided by the client, the clinician creates a personal humor profile to aid in the laughter therapy. In this one on one setting, the client is taught basic exercises that can be practiced. The intent of the exercises is to remind the importance of relationships and social support. It is important the clinician is sensitive to what the client perceives as humorous.

Laughter Meditation:
In laughter meditation there are some similarities to traditional meditation. However, it is the laughter that focuses the person to concentrate on the moment. Through a three stage process of stretching, laughing and or crying, and a period of meditative silence. In the first stage, the person places all energy into the stretching every muscle without laughter. In the second stage, the person starts with a gradual smile, and then slowly begins to purposely belly laugh or cry, whichever occurs. In the final stage, the person abruptly stops laughing or crying, then with their eyes now closed they breathe without a sound and focus their concentration on the moment. The process is approximately a 15 minute exercise. This may be awkward for some people as the laughter is not necessarily spontaneous. This is generally practiced on an individual basis.

Laughter Yoga & Laughter Clubs:
Somewhat similar to traditional yoga, laughter yoga is a exercise which incorporates breathing, yoga, stretching techniques along with laughter. The structured format includes several laughter exercises for a period of 30 to 45 minutes facilitated by a trained individual. Practiced it can be used as supplemental or preventative therapy. Laughter yoga can be performed in a group or a club. Therapeutic laughter clubs are extension of Laughter Yoga, but in a formalized club format. The need for humorous materials is not necessarily required. Laughter yoga is similar to yogic asana and the practice of Buddhist forced laughter. Some participants may find it awkward as laughter is not necessarily spontaneous in the structured format. A growth of laughter-related movements such as Laughter Yoga, Laughing Clubs and World Laughter Day have emerged in recent years as a testament to the growing popularity of laughter as therapy. In China, for example, the popularity of Laughing Clubs has even led to a detailed lexicon of laughing styles, such as “The Lion Bellow” or “The Quarreling Laugh”.
The Laughing Yogi – Crystalinks

Abnormal Laughter
Researchers frequently learn how the brain functions by studying what happens when something goes wrong. People with certain types of brain damage produce abnormal laughter. This is found most often in people with pseudobulbar palsy, gelastic epilepsy and, to a lesser degree, with multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) , and some brain tumours. Inappropriate laughter is considered symptomatic of psychological disorders including dementia and hysteria. Some negative medical effects of laughter have been reported as well, including laughter syncope, where laughter causes a person to lose consciousness.

Why We Laugh

A number of competing theories have been written. For Aristotle, we laugh at inferior or ugly individuals, because we feel a joy at being superior to them. Socrates was reported by Plato as saying that the ridiculous was characterised by a display of self-ignorance. Schopenhauer wrote that it results from an incongruity between a concept and the real object it represents. Hegel shared almost exactly the same view, but saw the concept as an “appearance” and believed that laughter then totally negates that appearance. For Freud, laughter is an “economical phenomenon” whose function is to release “psychic energy” that had been wrongly mobilised by incorrect or false expectations.

Philosopher John Morreall theorises that human laughter may have its biological origins as a kind of shared expression of relief at the passing of danger. The General Theory of Verbal Humour (GTVH) proposed by Victor Raskin and S. Attardo identifies a semantic model capable of expressing incongruities between semantic scripts in verbal humour; this has been seen as an important recent development in the theory of laughter. Recently Peter Marteinson theorised that laughter is our response to the perception that social being is not real in the same sense that factual states of affairs are true, and that we subconsciously blur the distinctions between cultural and natural truth types, so that we do not normally notice their differing criteria for truth and falsehood. This is an ontic-epistemic theory of the comic (OETC). Robert A. Heinlein’s view of why people laugh is explained in one of his most praised novels, Stranger in a Strange Land, “because it hurts”, is empathic but also a release of tension.

How Laughter Happens (cognitive model)

In modern times, the tendency is toward acceptance of incongruity as the probable cause of laughter, and incongruity-based theories are slowly gaining ground, although other schools of thought still hold some favor. A common explanation of humor (in the broader sense of ‘laughter-provoking’) is based on language. Premise: as we interpret a text, we automatically consider what language says, supposes, doesn’t say, and implies (this is the perspective of hermeneutics); the sentences we listen to and we tell, follow the universal conversational rules, that can be reduced to only one: be relevant.

This is the basis of the cognitive model of humor: the joke creates an inconsistency, the sentence appears to be not relevant, and we automatically try to understand what the sentence says, supposes, doesn’t say, and implies; if we are successful in solving this ‘cognitive riddle’, and we find out what is hidden within the sentence, and what is the underlying thought, and we bring foreground what was in the background, and we realize that the surprise wasn’t dangerous, we eventually laugh with relief. Otherwise, if the inconsistency is not resolved, there is no laugh, as Mack Sennett pointed out: “when the audience is confused, it doesn’t laugh” (this is the one of the basic laws of a comedian, called “exactness”). This explanation is also confirmed by modern neurophysiology.

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Acupuncture boosts IVF chances: study

Acupuncture can increase the chance of success for couples seeking to have a baby through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), according to a review published online Friday by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The paper looked at seven studies in which 1,366 women undergoing IVF were given acupuncture or a sham form of it – in which dummy sensations were substituted for pinpricks – or no additional treatment at all.

Overall, the odds of pregnancy increased by 65 per cent among the acupuncture group, although this figure may be overstated as data for the trials was uneven, say the authors.

They note that in trials where there was a generally high success rate, acupuncture conferred only a relatively slender advantage, of 24 per cent.

In four of the trials where the outcome of IVF was known, acupuncture boosted the probability of a live birth by 91 per cent.

Cautiously describing their findings as “preliminary evidence,” the authors say acupuncture “improves rates of pregnancy and live birth” among women undergoing IVF.

Previous research has generally found that acupuncture either has no effect on pregnancy rates or somewhat increases the chance of success.

An exception to this was a study last year that found women who had had acupuncture with IVF were less likely to get pregnant compared with counterparts who had not had the needles treatment.

Acupuncture has been used in China for centuries as a spur to reproduction, and its use is growing amongst couples turning to IVF to have a baby.

Among the theories circulating as to why acupuncture may be effective with IVF is the idea that it stimulates the flow of blood to the uterus, thus making the lining of the womb more receptive to the implantion of the embryo.

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Pioneering Maggot Nurse Wins An MBE

A woman from South Wales who specialises in the use of maggots to heal wounds has been awarded an MBE for services to nursing.

Mary 'The 'Maggot' Jones

Mary ‘The ‘Maggot’ Jones

Thanks to her pioneering work, Mary Jones has seen maggot therapy soar in recent years.

From a couple of treatments a month 12 years ago there are now more than 200 each week in the UK.

“Once I realised just how effective maggots are in treating infected, sloughy and necrotic wounds, often saving limbs from amputation, I was determined to spread the word,” she said.

“In my first year I did 28,000 miles travelling around the UK getting the therapy known.”

Much of Mary’s campaign to put maggots on the map has been unpaid, and she never switches off her mobile in case she’s needed.

“I’ve been on call since 1996,” she jokes.

Mary’s own family have benefited from maggot therapy – she has treated her husband, daughter, and son-in-law.

“When my daughter had problems with her caesarean wound, I treated it with maggots, and it healed up very quickly,” she recalls.

Mary was nominated for an MBE by her colleagues – tissue viability nurses from all over the UK.

“I feel so honoured to have been recognised in this way,” she says. “But I completely believe in what I do.

“Maggot therapy does save lives, it does salvage limbs, and it does improve a patient’s quality of life.”

Mary, who started her working life at Neath General Hospital, also won the Royal College of Nursing Nurse of the Year Award in 1997.

She is now seconded to ZooBiotic, the UK’s only supplier of pharmaceutically produced maggots to the healthcare sector.

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