A new study released today in the American Heart Journal says prayer helps the heart when combined with mainstream medical procedures.
Duke researchers studied 150 heart disease patients who were scheduled to undergo an invasive cardiac procedure in which a device known as a "stent" is placed into a clogged artery to hold it open. The patients were divided into categories. Some received therapies such as guided imagery, stress relaxation and healing touch, while others had unknown people pray for them without the patient knowing.
Twenty-five to thirty percent of those who received these therapies any of the additional therapies in combination with the cardiac procedure, were found to be at a lower risk of developing adverse affects, such as heart failure and even death. And participants who received prayers fared even better.
Dr. Mitch Krucoff, lead author of the study and a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center, says it's hard to explain how exactly prayer helps the heart.
"The mechanism through which this effect is achieved, whether or not God exists, and a host of other related areas are not illuminated by this particular clinical trial design."
William Harris, Director of Lipid and Metabolic Research with the Mid America Heart Institute of Saint Luke's-Shawnee Mission Health System in Kansas City, Mo., conducted a comparable study back in 1999, with similar results. He says there may be a number of answers that explain the benefits of prayer, but the results still raise some questions.
"The simplest answer is there's a God in the world and he listens to prayers. In our study they just had a first name to pray for, a Bob, or Mary, or Janet. And while they were praying for them, there are a lot of Bob's, Mary's, and Janet's in the hospital at the same time, and maybe in the control group as well. Now the question is, if that's true, how does the benefit acrue to this group? If there's no intervening intelligence to kind of know who this prayer is for. So for me, there is some sort of intervening intelligence."
Researchers say patients are becoming very interested in therapies that coincide with mainstream medicine, such as prayer. Because of this, additional research, including the second part of the Duke study, is already underway.
"The phase II study involves nine academic medical centers across the U.S., with a target enrollment ten times larger than the pilot study," says Krucoff.