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Spiritual interventions: research on prayer and healing

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.

In 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.

In 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 heart problems.

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.

Also in this issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch

  • Genes and lifestyle: Are we victims of our own success?
  • Low back pain: Treatment and prevention
  • Mind and body: Do music, imagery, touch, or prayer improve cardiac care?
  • On call: Biking and erectile dysfunction
  • On call: Diuretics and sulfa allergies

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.