Can Prayer Heal?
Does prayer have the power to heal? Scientists have some surprising answers.
Wired for Spirituality? continued...
And the limbic system, which is responsible for putting
"emotional tags" on that which we consider special, also becomes
activated. The limbic system also regulates relaxation, ultimately controlling
the autonomic nervous system, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, etc.,
The result: Everything registers as emotionally significant,
perhaps responsible for the sense of awe and quiet that many feel. The body
becomes more relaxed and physiological activity becomes more evenly
Does all this mean that we are communicating with a higher
being -- that we are, in fact, "hard-wired" at the factory to do just
that? That interpretation is purely subjective, Benson tells WebMD. "If
you're religious, this is God-given. If you're not religious, then it comes
from the brain."
The Impact of Religion on Health
But prayer is more than just repetition and physiological
responses, says Harold Koenig, MD, associate professor of medicine and
psychiatry at Duke and a colleague of Krucoff's.
Traditional religious beliefs have a variety of effects on
personal health, says Koenig, senior author of the Handbook of Religion and
Health, a new release that documents nearly 1,200 studies done on the
effects of prayer on health.
These studies show that religious people tend to live healthier
lives. "They're less likely to smoke, to drink, to drink and drive," he
says. In fact, people who pray tend to get sick less often, as separate studies
conducted at Duke, Dartmouth, and Yale universities show. Some statistics from
Hospitalized people who never attended church have an average
stay of three times longer than people who attended regularly.
Heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following
surgery if they did not participate in a religion.
Elderly people who never or rarely attended church had a stroke
rate double that of people who attended regularly.
In Israel, religious people had a 40% lower death rate from
cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Also, says Koenig, "people who are more religious tend to
become depressed less often. And when they do become depressed, they
recover more quickly from depression. That has consequences for their physical
health and the quality of their lives."