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Humor Your Tumor

This column will hereafter be a permanent feature of this web site, although its content will change monthly. It is dedicated to all individuals (and their loved ones) who are now battling cancer, and to Survivors whose cancer is in remission. I’ll occasionally leave you with a joke. This will usually be related to cancer, or some other source of stress in our lives. If you’ve heard a joke along these lines that you love, and would like to see it made available to everyone in this column, please send it to me at HaHaRemedy@viconet.com.


Humor Your Tumor
(June 1999)

By Paul McGhee, PhD.

Psychoneuroimmunology and Humor

II. Emotion is the Key

"The chemicals that are running our body and our brain are the same chemicals that are involved in emotion. And that says to me that . . . we'd better pay more attention to emotions with respect to health."

-Candace Pert

Candace Pert, one of the most respected researchers in the field of mind/body medicine, noted in Bill Moyers Healing and the Mind television series that emotions--registered and stored in the body in the form of chemical messages--are the best candidate for the key to the health connection between mind and body. It is through the emotions experienced in connection with your thoughts and attitudes--actually through the neurochemical changes that accompany these emotions--that your mind acquires the power to influence whether you get sick or remain well. (For an excellent overview of this area of research, see Pert's 1997 book, The Molecules of Emotion.)

The key, argues Pert, is found in complex molecules called neuropeptides. "A peptide is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. There are twenty-three different amino acids. Peptides are amino acids strung together very much like pearls strung along a necklace."(1)

Peptides are found throughout the body, including the brain and immune system. The brain contains about 60 different neuropeptides, including endorphins. Neuropeptides are the means by which all cells in the body communicate with each other. This includes brain-brain messages, brain-body messages, body-body messages and body-brain messages.

Individual cells, including brain cells, immune cells, and other body cells, have receptor sites that receive neuropeptides. The kind of neuropeptides available to cells is constantly changing, reflecting variations in your emotions throughout the day. The exact combinations of neuropeptides released during different emotional states has not yet been determined.

The kinds and number of emotion-linked neuropeptides available at receptor sites of cells influences the probability of staying well or getting sick. "Viruses use these same receptors to enter into a cell, and depending on how much of the . . . natural peptide for that receptor is around, the virus will have an easier or harder time getting into the cell. So our emotional state will affect whether we'll get sick from the same loading dose of a virus."(2)

This kind of conclusion from a researcher at the cutting edge of research on the mind/body connection should provide all the motivation you need to begin developing tools to manage your emotional state on a day-to-day basis. The precise role of such emotion-linked changes in neuropeptides in cancer has not yet been determined. It does seem safe to conclude, however, that persistent emotional states of any kind do have the potential to either contribute to health and wellness, or disrupt it.

It is no coincidence that people are commonly drawn to humor in the midst of difficult periods in their life. They recognize from their own experience that a good laugh helps substitute a positive for a negative frame of mind. One of the mosts frequent comments I get after my programs for cancer patients is something like, "You know, it's so true. There's no way I would have been able to get through all this if I couldn't laugh at some of the things that happen."

While they are talking about humor's ability to help them cope, we now know that being able to cope also influences your body's biochemimstry. By learning to improve your sense of humor, you help insure that the chemical messages Dr. Pert is talking about are working for you, not against you.

[Adapted from Dr. McGhee's book, Health, Healing and the Amuse System: Humor as Survival Training.]

1Pert, C. The chemical communications. In B. Moyers, Healing and the Mind. New York: 1993, p. 176.
2Pert, C. In B. Moyers, p. 190.

[Note: Check this site every month for new information on how humor improves the quality of your life and helps you cope with cancer.] HaHaRemedy@viconet.com.

Click here to link to Dr. McGhee's web site at www.LaughterRemedy.com.


 Archive (1999)

Click HERE for additional articles by Dr. McGhee on Humor and health/coping.