Friday, November 6, 2009

Charlie Chaplin, Mr. Bean, and Medicine

By Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

Charlie Chaplin in the Bradbury Building
Photo by Emmyboop via Flickr, under the Creative Commons License.

I've been reading up on what I call the Chaplin Studies over the last few weeks and they've given me a curious platform on which to observe both my daily life and that of my patients. By Chaplin Studies, I'm not referring to some academician by the name of Chaplin. Instead I'm thinking of the studies on laughter and humor's physiologic impact, most of which use a Charlie Chaplin movie, Modern Times, as their experimental control. In recent years though, Chaplin has been supplanted as a laugh inducer with videos of Mr. Bean in order to achieve similar effects. I suppose to be more accurate I should think of these studies as Chaplin, Bean, et al.

However we want to refer to them, there are an elegant group of research papers that was initially triggered initially by Norman Cousin's book on how he cured himself with laughter. Kimata's work an how laughter tempers allergic responses is probably the best known; laughter calms atopic dermatitis, asthma and related illnesses in adults and infants, even to the degree that having nursing mothers watch funny movies improves eczema and night time sleeping in their infants. Hayashi and his group of researchers have taken this a few steps further analyzing which genes are activated by laughter, analyzing thousands of genes before and after laughter provoking videos and no surprise the genes turned on mostly affect immune response, NK Killer Cell activation for the most part.

This isn't what I've been thinking about actually. I've been thinking about the controls they've used in these studies. For the most part in contrast to watching video of Chaplin, Bean et al. used to provoke laughter, the control groups in these studies usually got to watch the weather channel.

That the weather channel is a neutral control has triggered a chain of thought. There was a time that we watched television for entertainment, we would sit down to be amused, engaged but mostly entertained. Of course I may simply be thinking back to my childhood watching cartoons and the Three Stooges. Instead these days many people leave the television on to keep track of the weather, the news, or sports. As if I care what the weather is in Boston today? This does nothing good for us. What of the shows that fall on the opposite side of the spectrum from laughter, shows that my daughter groups under the category, 'Dead Body Shows?' If laughter improves or balances our immune function, what does the casual and constant viewing of shows that portray postmortem examinations? Is this good for us?

These ruminations have colored my observations during the day, as if I am turning a meter towards all experience. Does this make me laugh? Does this make me cry? Does this simply bore me to no end? These experiences are probably reflected in genetic expression and immune function.

Thank goodness for NetFlix and Mr. Chaplin and Mr. Bean I say. They have become my new after work antidote.

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