Harvard Men's Health Watch

Mind and body: Do music, imagery, touch, or prayer improve cardiac care?

Even the most hard-nosed scientist is likely to agree that there is a strong connection between mind and body. The link between head and heart is particularly strong. Many studies have shown that stress, hostility, anger, depression, and social isolation increase the risk of heart disease and impair recovery from heart attacks. And although scientific proof is less secure, many clinicians have observed that patients who are optimistic, relaxed, and confident seem to come through illness and procedures better than those who are gloomy or anxious.

Hospitals can provide medications to help patients get through taxing tests and treatments, but can they also offer spiritual interventions that may help? It's an important question, but like many areas of alternative medicine, it has not been fully investigated. Two excellent American studies do not completely settle the question of the efficacy of spiritual interventions, but they do serve as models for rigorous scientific approaches to this complex issue.

The STEP study

To find out if prayer could assist recovery from coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery, a team of scientists and pastors studied 1,800 patients at six U.S. medical centers. A third of the patients received intercessory prayer after being told that they might receive prayer; a third did not receive prayer; and a third received prayer after being told they would receive it. The prayers were performed by members of three Christian communities who were not in physical contact with the patients. The patients who received prayer were identified in the prayers by their first names and the first initial of their last names.

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