BOSTON, MA — Stress and depression can increase the risk of heart
disease and impair recovery from heart attacks. And although not as
soundly proven, optimistic and relaxed patients seem to weather illness
better than the gloomy and anxious. Can spiritual interventions make
tests and treatments easier for patients? Like many areas of
alternative medicine, this has not been fully investigated, reports the
December 2006 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch. But two studies serve as models for further research.
the first study, researchers looked at whether prayer on behalf of a
patient could assist recovery from bypass surgery. A third of the
patients were prayed for after being told that this might or might not
be done; a third did not receive prayer; and a third received prayer
after being told this would occur. The researchers concluded that
prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from bypass.
the second study, researchers randomly assigned patients to one of four
groups before elective cardiac catheterization and angiography. One
group received standard care. The others, in addition to standard care,
received either prayer; music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy; or
both prayer and MIT therapy. MIT therapy included instruction in
meditation and deep breathing, and the application of "healing touch"
hand positions by trained practitioners. The investigators found that
neither prayer nor MIT therapy was beneficial in preventing subsequent
However, patients who
received MIT therapy experienced a clear decrease in anxiety and
distress before the catheterization—and were less likely to die during
the subsequent six months. But it’s not clear whether it was the music,
imagery, or touch that might have helped, reports the Harvard Men’s Health Watch.