The Connection Between Psychology and Cancer Survival

“Health and cheerfulness naturally beget each other.”

Joseph Addison

Whilst there has been relatively little research conducted on the impact of psychology and cancer, there is a definite connection between mind and body that can be influenced by your levels of laughter, loneliness, depression, socialising and even placebos. This goes towards illustrating how important the mind can be in promoting health and healing. So much so, that we should not take it for granted.

“To insure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life.”

William Londen

Is cancer survival a state of mind?

A study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, examined 255 women with breast cancer and 367 healthy women acting as controls. The researchers questioned the participants on how happy, optimistic, depressed or anxious they were before being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Researchers discovered that anxiety or depression relating to a stressful event such as divorce or bereavement appeared to be a significant contributor to the increased incidence of breast cancer. Positive states of mind, such as general happiness, played a protective role.

Is laughter the best medicine?

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones..”

Proverbs 17:22

Amazingly, the mechanical action of laughing has been shown to release endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. There are numerous scientific studies on the topic, including one study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, which showed that being in a social group with a general sense of well-being did not trigger the same endorphins response as the physical act of laughter.

This study, showed that pain thresholds were noticeably increased during laughter. Dr Dunbar, the evolutionary psychologist at Oxford University says that it is the relaxed and contagious group laughter that is so effective. He believes that it is a form of “grooming at a distance” that fosters closeness in a group. This is very reminiscent of the grooming and delousing that maintains bonds between primates.

In fact, Dr Dunbar says that primates also engage in laughter during play. In their case, it is more a heavy panting rather than an active “ha ha”.

Laughter has also been shown to:

  • Lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • Increase your vascular bloodflow, (resulting in oxygenation of the blood).
  • Reduce stress hormones, (such as cortisol and adrenaline).
  • Exercise the diaphragm and a range of abdominal and respiratory muscles.
  • Increase defence against respiratory infections, even decreasing the frequency of colds (by increasing immunoglobulin levels in saliva).
  • Increase the response of your immune system, (increasing levels of gamma interferon and the action of T cells).
  • Improve memory, alertness, creativity and learning, (a study at John Hopkins University Medical School, showed that humour during instruction resulted in increased test scores).

Dr Berk, a Californian physician and researcher who has studied the numerous effects of laughter explained “The ultimate reality of this research is that laughter causes a wide variety of modulation, and that the body’s response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise. The value of the research is that it may provide healthcare providers with new insights and understandings, and thus further potential options for patients who cannot use physical activity to normalise or enhance their appetite.”

Dr Berk’s prior work was able to demonstrate that laughter not only improves mood and reduces stress, but that is also activates the cells in the immune system that help fight cancer.

A study conducted at the Indiana State University Sycamore Nursing Centre used blood samples before and after comedy videos to demonstrate a significant increase in the numbers of natural killer cells (NK cells), which are a vital part of your immune system in the fight against cancer.

The participants were asked to complete a humour questionnaire following the videos, and the greater the level of “mirthful” laughter, the higher the immune response. The participants in the laughter group showed significantly higher levels of natural killer cells than the control group.

Just 10 minutes of laughter can also highly oxygenate our blood and organs. Two-time Nobel Prize winner Dr Otto Warburg has shown a strong connection between oxygen in the cells and good health.

A number of cancer centres are pursuing alternative therapies designed to reduce stress and increase laughter. Based upon the above research, this appears to be an excellent idea. I would advocate taking the time to engage in group laughter whether you are healthy or not. Book tickets for the next comedy gig at your local theatre, or else watch comedy gigs on TV or online.

If you enjoyed this article, then why not take a look at Cancer Uncensored – Your Step By Step Guide to Cancer Prevention, Early Detection and Cancer Survival.


Cancer Uncensored

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