April 7, 2008 -- OK, take a deep breath. Now put your hand on your belly. Imagine your stomach jiggling, as if you are starting to laugh. You may have just taken a step toward reducing stress hormone levels.
Researchers say merely anticipating a laugh can jump-start healthy changes in the body.
The findings come from a small study, made up of 16 healthy men. The men were divided into two groups. The experimental group was told to anticipate something funny. The other group was used as a comparison.
Researchers then tested the levels of three stress hormones participants had in their blood and compared that to the control group, which did not expect a laugh was on the way.
Researchers found that the group anticipating the laughs had reduced levels of three stress hormones compared to the other group.
Here's the breakdown from the experimental group.
- Cortisol levels dipped 39%. Cortisol is known as a major stress hormone.
- Adrenaline levels dropped 70%. Adrenaline is also known as epinephrine.
- Dopac levels dropped 38%. Dopac is a chemical related to the "feel-good" chemical known as dopamine.
Persistently elevated stress hormone levels in the blood, as happens under chronic stressful situations, has been linked to a weakened immune system.
"Our findings lead us to believe that by seeking out positive experiences that make us laugh we can do a lot with our physiology to stay well," says researcher Lee Berk in a news release.
The researchers were following up on a similar study they did two years ago in which they found that anticipating laughter led to an increase in healthful chemicals such as beta-endorphins.