Checking out some stand-up, watching a comedy show or just having a giggle with your friends could be the healthiest thing you can do this weekend.
That’s because laughter has been shown to lower your blood glucose levels – which may well be sky high over the chocolate-fest of Easter.
For many people, gorging on chocolate will result in a burst of energy, even a jittery feeling or sense of lightheadedness.
This is the result of the sugar shooting into our bloodstream, giving us that spike in blood glucose, which is usually followed by an energy crash.
As well as making us feel tired and hungry, having repeated sugar spikes and crashes has been linked to a range of health problems including obesity, diabetes and heart disease and can lead to pre-diabetes and eventually type 2 diabetes.
Laughter has been shown to lower your blood glucose levels – which may well be sky high over the chocolate-fest of Easter
‘When we eat something, especially something like an Easter egg containing lots of sugar, this causes a rapid rise in blood glucose,’ says Dr Nicky Keay, a hormone expert and honorary clinical lecturer in medicine at University College London.
Insulin is released to bring blood glucose levels down by helping the sugar leave the bloodstream and enter the body’s cells so it can be used for energy. It also signals to the liver to store the glucose for later use.
‘However, you can make the job of insulin easier by doing things that will help restore glucose levels to the healthy range quickly,’ she says.
‘Exercise is known to be one of these actions, as active muscles demand glucose for energy. We use muscles to laugh, hence laughing has a blood glucose-lowering effect.’
A Japanese study confirms that laughter can be the best medicine when you’ve overdone it on the sweet stuff.
In 2003 Dr Keiko Hayashi at the University of Tsukuba gave two groups of volunteers, some with diabetes and some who were non-diabetic, the same meal and then made them watch a 40-minute lecture. They then repeated the process but this time watching a 40-minute comedy.
Their blood glucose levels were tested after both activities and they found that both groups had significantly lowered blood glucose levels after the comedy show in comparison to after the lecture.
Why is that? ‘Laughter may demand more energy for muscles,’ says Dr Keay, who is the author of Hormones, Health and Human Potential: A Guide to Understanding Your Hormones to Optimise Your Health and Performance.
‘Our mood can also affect blood glucose control – we know that being stressed raises blood glucose, so the converse could apply.’
And, as if we needed any more excuses to laugh – splitting your sides could also be good for your heart.
‘Laughter lowers the stress hormones. Stress raises cortisol, which increases blood glucose, boosts heart rate, constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response.
‘All these responses increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in the long term. But being happy and laughing has the exact opposite physiological effects.
‘Therefore laughter could be instrumental in reducing risk of heart disease, angina and stroke. Laughter may also aid circulation and could be helpful for patients with diabetic neuropathy [when the nerves become damaged], one of the complications of diabetes.
‘According to research by the Institute of Psychiatry in London, being sad restricts the flow of blood, whilst laughter encourages blood vessels to perform normally,’ she adds.
So if you have type 2 diabetes, what should you do?
‘To begin with, it is best to treat type 2 with healthy eating and regular exercise to encourage weight loss in those who are obese or overweight,’ says Dr Anand Velusamy, consultant endocrinologist at London Bridge Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK.
‘It is also advised to monitor blood sugar levels especially with a three-month average blood glucose test called HbA1c.
‘The drug metformin is commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, as it helps the body maintain healthy blood sugar levels and by improving native insulin sensitivity.
‘Insulin treatment is used if blood sugar levels become difficult to control despite tablets or temporarily to achieve quick blood sugar control.
‘If you are experiencing symptoms of type 2 diabetes including increased urination, thirst, exhaustion and irritability, then you should speak to your doctor to have your blood glucose levels tested.’
Six ways to balance your blood sugar revealed
Rob Hobson, a registered nutritionist, sports nutritionist and head of nutrition at Healthspan, often sees private clients who are struggling to reduce sugar spikes. Here are his five tips for keeping blood glucose stable.
Chromium supports blood sugar by influencing efficient transport of glucose into the cells. Once glucose is delivered to the cells, it can be used for energy and blood sugar levels become more balanced and stable.
Chromium also helps the body to process carbohydrates, proteins and fats from the food we eat. This can also be found in a supplement. Studies have suggested that taking chromium picolinate.
(which is the easiest for the body to use in supplement form) may help to reduce insulin levels and improve blood sugar metabolism in both obese people and people with type 2 diabetes.
2. Tinned beans
Legumes such as beans, pulses and lentils are some of the richest sources of dietary fibre. Ensuring your meals are high in fibre can help to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream which helps to balance blood sugar levels.
You can add tinned legumes to many dishes including soups, stews and salads – they can also be used to make tasty dips such as hummus.
Unlike some fruits – especially watery fruits like melons – apples have a low glycaemic index (GI) which means they release their sugars more slowly and have less impact on blood sugar levels.
These fruits are also a good source of a fibre called pectin, as well as antioxidant polyphenols. Try swapping your sweet sugary snack for an apple – add a tablespoon of peanut butter to sliced apples for added fibre and a little protein.
4. Pumpkin seeds
Not only are these seeds high in fibre, which helps to balance blood sugar levels, but they are a rich source of magnesium. This mineral has an important role on insulin action, helping the body use it more effectively.
Sprinkle pumpkin seeds on yoghurt, porridge and salads or eat as a blood sugar-friendly snack.
This cruciferous vegetable contains a type of isothiocyanate called sulforaphane, which is thought to have blood sugar-reducing properties. This compound is made available when broccoli is chewed and has been shown in studies to enhance insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar.
Research has shown that cinnamon may also help to improve blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that a daily intake of 1,3, or 6g was shown to reduce serum glucose, triglyceride and LDL cholesterol after 40 days among a group of 60 middle-aged diabetics.
Cinnamon can be added to hot drinks, soups, salad dressings, curries and as a toping for yoghurt or porridge. Cinnamon is also available as a supplement such as Healthspan Cinnamon 1000mg (£14.45 for 120 tablets). Consult with your