Does Prayer Help Others Heal?
Study's Mixed Results May Pave the Way for Future Research
July 14, 2005 -- A new study of prayer and heart health has researchers
asking more questions than they can answer right now.
The findings didn't show a benefit for the main result measured. But that
may not be the end of the story.
"This is a first step, not a final, conclusive work," researcher
Mitch Krucoff, MD, FACC, FCCP, tells WebMD.
"We are very early in our scientific understanding of how important
prayer works for healing," he says.
Krucoff is a professor of medicine and cardiology at Duke University Medical
Center. He also directs the cardiovascular devices unit at the Duke Clinical
Research Institute. The study appears in The Lancet.
The study included 748 people. They were due to get a heart procedure -- a
cardiac catheterization -- to check for blocked arteries. Three out of four
also got other procedures to reopen those arteries.
The researchers asked a dozen congregations from a variety of faiths around
the world to pray for 371 of the patients. The other 377 patients were not put
on official prayer lists.
Everyone got standard medical care. Some patients also got bedside music,
imagery, or touch therapies.
The patients were followed for six months.
All groups had similar outcomes in the study's main measurement: a
combination of major in-hospital heart problems, rehospitalization within the
next six months, or death.
But other measures showed possible benefits.
While there was no positive result on prayer for the main result, Krucoff
says there was a suggestion of benefit in other specific areas.
Emotional distress before the heart procedure and death six months after the
procedure were lower in the music/imagery/touch group.
"These may be the world's most ancient healing traditions, but the
clinical science we're using is what we would use for evaluating the most
modern of therapeutics," says Krucoff.
"What real science in this area does is set the stage for us to learn
something and then continue to investigate until we really begin to understand
the role of the human spirit in the context of high-tech cardiovascular
care," he says.
Methods, Groups Varied
The study included Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian congregations
around the world.
The patients' names were sent to the congregations within 30 minutes of
assignment to the prayer group.
Congregations were free to pray for the patients whenever, whatever, and
however they wanted. Some prayed for five days, others for as many as 30
"We deliberately enrolled different denominations [and] different
religions who were physically in different time zones, each of whom say prayers
with different syntax during the day for different durations over a different
number of days," says Krucoff.
"We left the content, the timing, and the duration of prayer up to the
routine practice of each congregation. We did not dictate," he says.