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Anatomy of an Illness

By Norman Cousins

(Bantam Books, New York City, New York, 1981, pp.160, paperback)

Anatomy of an Illness is the story of Norman Cousins and his self prescribed treatment of ankylosing spondylitic, a serious collagen illness that causes disintegration of the connective tissue in the spine. Having a deep interest in medical matters and a close friendship with his doctor, he researched his condition and its probable causes. He determined that his adrenal system was inhibiting the endocrine system essential for combating severe arthritis. His thinking was that if negative emotions produce negative chemical changes in the body, then positive emotions would produce positive chemical changes. Besides hope, love, and faith, he concluded that there should be laughter in his positive emotional therapy. His laughter was stimulated by watching TV show “Candid Camera,” Marx Brothers movies, and listening to his nurse read humorous books.

Actual measurable results of his laughter therapy were recorded. He stated, “I was greatly elated by the discovery that there is a physiologic basis for the ancient theory that laughter is good medicine.” He also stated: “It has always seemed to me that hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.” He found that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give him at least 2 hours of pain-free sleep.

In addition to the laughter therapy, Cousin’s personal research concluded that large doses of vitamin C would help with oxygenation of the blood. After consulting with his doctor, he started on massive doses of vitamin C injected directing into his bloodstream.

Anatomy of an Illness chronicles his effective treatment. His story has been told in major medical and lay journals around the world.