Maybe laughter really is the best medicine -- especially if it’s taken with a dose of chocolate.
While previous studies have found that stress can cause blood vessels to constrict, the first team of researchers, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, wanted to find out if positive emotions had the opposite effect, lead researcher Dr. Michael Miller said in a release.
When they aired the opening clip of the drama “Saving Private Ryan,” volunteers responded with a constriction of the blood vessel linings, causing a reduction in blood flow. But when those same people watched clips of the comedy, “There’s Something About Mary,” the linings actually expanded.
“The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium after laughing was consistent and similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic exercise or statin use,” Dr. Miller said in the release, explaining that a hardy laugh could be part of an overall healthy lifestyle. “In other words, eat your veggies, exercise and get a good belly laugh every day."
And the second team of researchers, from the University of Cambridge, may add chocolate to that list, as well. Of course, we’ve long known that dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants and boasts numerous health benefits, including the ability to help lower blood pressure and even cause a significant increase in insulin sensitivity. But these researchers have an added perk to throw on the laundry list of health benefits -- after conducting a large-scale review on recent evidence (the results were published in the British Medical Journal), these scientists found that regular chocolate consumption (they didn’t differentiate between dark or milk) can slash cardiovascular risk by a third.
The researchers did caution, however, not to necessarily celebrate the news with a 500-calorie piece of chocolate cake -- many commercial chocolate products are loaded with calories that can, ironically, cause heart disease and a host of other health problems, including diabetes. Instead, they suggest that it’s time to look into alternatives that contain less added sugar without sacrificing taste.
In the meantime, you can indulge in that mindless comedy, guilt-free -- and enjoy a few bites of chocolate while you’re there.