Spirituality and health is the last taboo of modern medicine.  When I was in medical school, we never, and I do mean never, a conversation about the topic.  It simply didn't exist. However, this area has proven to be one of the most promising areas of medical research for those daring enough to investigate. Fortunately, there are growing numbers of research scientists and studies that have boldly gone where previously few others have dared to go.

One of the first studies brought to my attention was conducted at the University of California at San Francisco's Medical School. Dr. Randy Byrd divided a group of 393 seriously ill intensive care unit patients, all experiencing various types of diseases affecting the heart.  They were divided into 2 groups, and were matched for age, severity and type of disease.  Dr. Byrd asked people from different religious traditions, (Catholics, Protestants and Jews) to pray for the people, several times each day.

The patients had at least seven people praying for them.  This double blind study (the patients and their doctors were unaware if they were being prayed for) had very interesting outcomes.  Despite their similarities, the group that was prayed for had fewer serious complications, including cardiac arrests, heart failure, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and pneumonia.  Even more amazing, not one person in the prayed for group died!

Another study conducted in 1998 and reported at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in 1998, by Mitch Krucoff, MD, a Duke University heart specialist, had similar results.  Entitled "Monitor and Actualization of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA)," this double blind study, divided 150 patients in 5 groups of 30.  Three of the groups received relaxation, guided imagery or touch therapies. The names of the fourth group were placed into the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Carmelite nuns in Baltimore, to Buddhist monks in Nepal, Christian fundamentalist groups and Moravians to pray for them.  The fifth group received standard medical care only.

The heart disease patients, receiving angioplasty (a repair of their heart arteries) who were prayed for by the different religious groups around the world had an outcome that was 50%-100% better than those who were not prayed for. The groups receiving the other therapies showed a 30%-50% improvement, compared to the patients who only received standard care.

While the results of this study was too small to offer statistically significant comparison, the results, "are highly intriguing, and not what most traditional physicians would have expected," Dr. Krucoff stated.  "Our data show beneficial trends.  Our goal was to conduct as scientifically rigorous and reasonable a trial as has ever been undertaken to look at what else, besides pills and procedures, might help us treat patients." A larger trial, with 1500 patients is expected to be conducted at 5 major medical centers in the United States.

The study used objective measurements, such as heart rate and blood pressure monitoring, continuous EKG monitoring, to measure the effects of spiritual energy in heart patients, before, during and after invasive procedures.  These outcomes certainly raise questions about the validity of our mechanical perception of the human body.  How is it possible for prayers made thousands of miles away to have a positive impact on a body and enhance healing?  If we think of ourselves as separate, disconnected bodies, a logical answer doesn't exist.  If we look beyond this perception, perhaps there is one.

Source:  Beyond Cholesterol by Elaine R. Ferguson, MD

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