NEW YORK (Reuters Health) — Prayer may reduce the number of complications experienced by hospitalized heart patients, researchers report.
“This suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care,” Dr. William Harris of Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and colleagues report in the October 25th issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Heart patients who were prayed for by others, but were not aware of being the object of prayers, had an 11% reduction in medical complications or the need for surgery or medication while in hospital, according to the investigators.
The authors examined the medical charts of nearly 1,000 heart patients, following their health histories between hospital admission and discharge.
All patients in the study received standard medical care. But unbeknownst to the patients, Harris and colleagues provided the first names of about half the patients to 15 teams of five self-identified, practicing Christians. These individuals prayed daily for the healthy recovery of selected patients for a period of 4 weeks. The remaining patients were not prayed for as part of the study.
The authors report that the prayed-for patients had significantly lower complication rates than those not prayed for in the study.
The research team effectively ruled out patient bias as a possible factor behind the benefits associated with prayer, since both patients and hospital staff “were completely (unaware of)… the very existence of the trial.”
Indeed, they say they have no “mechanistic explanation” as to how the prayers of strangers might have helped speed patient healing. The odds that chance might explain the findings are about 1 in 25, according to the authors.
Instead, they refer to the theories of those who believe that “natural or supernatural” causes may be behind the ‘healing power of prayer.’ Believers in the ‘natural causes’ theory propose that some as-yet-undiscovered natural force is ”’generated’ by the intercessors and ‘received’ by the patients,” according to the researchers. On the other hand, those subscribing to a supernatural explanation point to the existence of God or some force “beyond the ken of science.”
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