Can Prayer Heal?
Does prayer have the power to heal? Scientists have some surprising answers.
God Grabs Headlines continued...
Even the NIH -- which "refused to even review a study with
the word prayer in it four years ago" -- is now funding one prayer study
through its Frontier Medicine Initiative. Although it's not his study, Krucoff
says it's nevertheless evidence that "things are changing."
Krucoff has been studying prayer and spirituality since 1996 --
and practicing it much longer in his patient care. Earlier studies of the
subject were small and often flawed, he says. Some were in the form of
anecdotal reports: "descriptions of miracles ... in patients with cancer,
pain syndromes, heart disease," he says.
"[Today,] we're seeing systematic investigations --
clinical research -- as well as position statements from professional societies
supporting this research, federal subsidies from the NIH, funding from
Congress," he tells WebMD. "All of these studies, all the reports, are
remarkably consistent in suggesting the potential measurable health benefit
associated with prayer or spiritual interventions."
Wired for Spirituality?
For the past 30 years, Harvard scientist Herbert Benson, MD,
has conducted his own studies on prayer. He focuses specifically on meditation,
the Buddhist form of prayer, to understand how mind affects body. All forms of
prayer, he says, evoke a relaxation response that quells stress, quiets the
body, and promotes healing.
Prayer involves repetition -- of sounds, words -- and therein
lies its healing effects, says Benson. "For Buddhists, prayer is
meditation. For Catholics, it's the rosary. For Jews, it's called dovening. For
Protestants, it's centering prayer. Every single religion has its own way of
Benson has documented on MRI brain scans the physical changes
that take place in the body when someone meditates. When combined with recent
research from the University of Pennsylvania, what emerges is a picture of
complex brain activity:
As an individual goes deeper and deeper into concentration,
intense activity begins taking place in the brain's parietal lobe circuits --
those that control a person's orientation in space and establish distinctions
between self and the world. Benson has documented a "quietude" that
then envelops the entire brain.
At the same time, frontal and temporal lobe circuits -- which
track time and create self-awareness -- become disengaged. The mind-body
connection dissolves, Benson says.