Laughter may be the best medicine for age-related memory loss

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We are all familiar with the saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” And this motto may ring true when it comes to tackling age-related memory loss; a new study from Loma Linda University in California finds that humor may reduce brain damage caused by the “stress hormone” cortisol, which in turn, improves memory.

The research team, led by Dr. Gurinder Singh Bains, recently presented their findings at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.

It is well known that too much stress can negatively affect health. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that stress may worsen allergies, while other research indicates that it makes the brain more susceptible to mental illness.

Past research has also shown that stress can worsen memory and learning ability in elderly individuals. This is because stress increases production of cortisol – a hormone that can cause damage to neurons in the brain.

Since it is well known that laughter can be a stress reliever, the research team wanted to determine whether humor may reduce brain damage caused by cortisol.

Watching a funny video ‘reduced cortisol levels and boosted memory performance’

The researchers analyzed one group of elderly individuals who had diabetes and another group of elderly people who were healthy.

Laughing seniors
Laughter may reduce neuron damage caused by “stress hormone” cortisol, therefore improving memory in older individuals.

Both groups were required to view a 20-minute humorous video, before completing a memory test that measured their visual recognition, learning ability and memory recall.

A third group of elderly individuals were asked to complete the memory test without watching the funny video. The team then compared the results of all three groups.

Cortisol levels for all participants were recorded before and after the experiments.

The investigators found that both groups who watched the humorous video showed a significant reduction in cortisol levels, compared with the group that did not view the video.

The groups that watched the funny video also showed greater improvement in memory recall, learning ability and sight recognition, compared with those who did not watch the video. The diabetic group demonstrated the greatest improvement in both cortisol levels and memory test scores.

‘Laughter may improve memory and quality of life’

Study co-author Dr. Lee Burk says these findings suggests that the less stress a person has, the better their memory performance, and humor may be the key to reducing stress levels.

“Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state,” he explains.

“The act of laughter – or simply enjoying some humor – increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward.”

He says that these neurochemical changes in the brain also increase “gamma wave band frequency,” which can improve memory.

“So, indeed,” he adds, “laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life.”

Dr. Bains says the team’s findings may offer benefits that can be applied to wellness programs for elderly individuals, adding:

“The cognitive components – learning ability and delayed recall – become more challenging as we age and are essential to older adults for an improved quality of life: mind, body and spirit.

Although older adults have age-related memory deficits, complimentary, enjoyable and beneficial humor therapies need to be implemented for these individuals.”

Laughter may not be the only way to boost memory. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that green tea may improve working memory, while other research from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland found that caffeine may boost long-term memory.




Yogurt With Mixed Seeds, Toasted Oatmeal and Ginger Syrup


The inspiration for this breakfast yogurt comes mainly from an amazing breakfast yogurt and fruit bowl I had at the Elizabeth Street Café, a Vietnamese-French bakery and restaurant in Austin, Tex. Its baker, Jennifer Tucker, is exceptionally talented: Anyone who can pull off croissants that incorporate whole-wheat flour and seeds while remaining flaky, light, and small has my immediate attention.

The cafe’s morning yogurt bowl includes an unusual granola made with steel-cut oats, macadamia nuts, and ginger; fresh fruit; and a delicious ginger-palm sugar syrup. Jennifer was kind enough to share her recipes for the granola and the ginger palm sugar syrup (I’m using only the syrup recipe here, but I’m sure you’ll see the granola in afuture Recipes for Health). The seed mix you should make in quantity and keep on hand for adding not just to your morning yogurt, but to salads, baked goods, just about anything. I soak the seeds, then dry them for a day in a very low oven. The ginger syrup keeps well and it too is great to have on hand.
Total time: About 30 minutes (includes time to make the syrup), plus 1 day to soak and dry the seed mix and to soften the oatmeal overnight in the yogurt.
For the seed mix:
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds (20 grams)
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds (20 grams)
1 teaspoon poppy seeds (5 grams)
1 tablespoon toasted or black sesame seeds (12 grams)
1 teaspoon chia seeds (5 grams)
For the ginger palm sugar syrup:
1 cup water (240 g)
180 grams palm sugar (about 1 cup)
90 grams fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
For the yogurt:
1 tablespoon toasted pinhead oatmeal (see note)
2/3 cup plain low-fat or whole-milk yogurt
Fruit in season, such as berries, sliced peaches, pears, banana
Note: To toast oatmeal, spread about a cup on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oatmeal in oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
1. To make seed mix, combine seeds in a bowl. Soaking is optional but I prefer the texture of the seeds when they’ve been soaked, and soaking makes their nutrients more readily available. Cover with water and refrigerate for 7 hours or overnight. Drain. (The mixture will be gelatinous because of the chia seeds.) Line a small baking sheet with parchment and spread the mixture in an even layer on the sheet. Place in an oven set at the lowest setting; if your oven has a pilot light you needn’t turn it on at all. Leave for 6 hours or overnight, until the mixture is completely dry. Break it up (some seeds will stick together because of the chia) and keep in a jar in the refrigerator or freezer.
2. To make the syrup, combine ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until slightly thickened and infused with the ginger flavor. Strain and reserve ginger (you can use it in granola or other desserts).
3. Combine yogurt and 1 tablespoon of the toasted oatmeal. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons ginger syrup, 1 tablespoon of the seed mix, and the fruit of your choice.
Yield: Serves 1
Advance preparation: The oats, nut mix and ginger syrup all keep for weeks.
Nutritional information per serving: 200 calories; 8 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 3 grams polyunsaturated fat; 3 grams monounsaturated fat; 10 milligrams cholesterol; 22 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams dietary fiber; 119 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 12 grams protein