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Can Prayer Heal?

Does prayer have the power to heal? Scientists have some surprising answers.

When We Pray for Others continued...

Roy L. and 150 other patients took part in MANTRA's pilot study. All suffer from acute heart disease, and all needed emergency angioplasty.

The stress of the procedure -- because it is done on patients who are awake -- has its own negative effects on the body, Krucoff tells WebMD. "The heart beats faster, beats harder, blood vessels are constricted, blood is thicker and clots more easily. All that's bad." But if an intervention could mediate that stress, it would potentially be a pretty useful adjunct for people coming in for angioplasty, he says.

In the pilot study, the patients were assigned to a control group or to touch therapy, stress relaxation, imagery, or distant prayer. A therapist came to the bedsides of patients in the touch, stress-relaxation, and imagery groups, but not to the bedsides in the control or distant-prayer groups. Like Roy, people in those two groups didn't know whether prayers were being sent their way or not.

Those early results "were very suggestive that there may be a benefit to these therapies," Krucoff tells WebMD.

Krucoff and Crater are now involved in the MANTRA trial's second phase, which will ultimately enroll 1,500 patients undergoing angioplasty at nine clinical centers around the country.

Patients will be randomly assigned to one of four study groups: (1) they might be "prayed for" by the religious groups; (2) they might receive a bedside form of spiritual therapy involving relaxation techniques; (3) they might be prayed for and receive bedside spiritual therapy -- the "turbo-charged group," as Krucoff calls it; or they might get none of the extra spiritual therapies.

"We're not looking at prayer as an alternative to angioplasty," he adds. "We're very high-tech people here. We're looking at whether in all of the energy and interest we have put into systematic investigation of high-tech medicine, if we have actually missed the boat. Have we ignored the rest of the human being -- the need for something more -- that could make all the high-tech stuff work better?"

Reviewed on March 26, 2004

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