Whether or not faith and prayer can aid in healing has been a topic of debate in the medical community for decades. Doctors have done studies on the subject, and many in the health community, from nurses to surgical technicians to countless others are interested in the results. No matter salary, education or beliefs, these studies remain fascinating. Some studies seem to show that faith and prayer can have a positive effect on healing, while others seem to show that there is no benefit at all to these types of intercessions.
It may seem strange to devote so much time to looking for the connection between faith and medicine, but there are plenty who devote their time, talents and intellect to answering such questions. Here are 25 intriguing scientific studies about faith, prayer and healing:
Faith and Healing
These studies look at how a patient’s faith might actually help in the healing process. It’s more than just going to a place like Lourdes to become healed. How someone feels about a higher power, and how he or she communes with that higher power, might affect the outcome of an illness or surgery.
- God’s headquarters: Dr. Michael Persinger has done studies on what happens to the brain when people are in the attitude of prayer and faith, and he links to the ways that personal faith can help the way someone feels, and how they interact with God.
- Cancer patients: The Southern Medical Journal featured a study from Andrew Weaver and Kevin Flannerly describing how the spirituality of cancer patients determined quality of life during care. Those with faith had a better quality of life than those with out it.
- Quality of life: Another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, shows that patients with cancer can experience better quality of life when their spiritual needs are supported by a medical team.
- Helping patients with faith: “Physicians and Patient Spirituality: Professional Boundaries, Competency, and Ethics,” from the Annals of Internal Medicine, looks at how faith and spirituality can help with coping during times of illness and injury.
- Depression and faith: Rush University Medical Center published a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology looking at how faith can actually help protect patients against the symptoms of depression.
- Faith to fight depression: At MIT, a psychoanalyst gave a talk about using faith to fight depression.
Intercessory Prayer and Healing
A number of studies have been done that seem to show that intercessory prayer can work to help patients overcome illness. These studies look at what happens when others pray for those who are ailing in some manner.
- Prayer helps heart patients: A Duke University study showed that cardiac patients receiving intercessory prayer in addition to stenting appeared to recover better than those who received coronary stenting alone.
- Social work and intercessory prayer: At Arizona State University, a review of different studies of intercessory prayer among social workers showed that small positive effects could be produced with the practice.
- Scientists and intercessory prayer: Brandeis University offered an analysis of decades of research on intercessory prayer and presented, in the Journal of Religion, a study that shows that studies about the practice say more about scientists than whether prayer “works.”
- Intercessory prayer and belief: This interesting study from The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at how the belief in intercessory prayer affected patients, and found that even though patients didn’t know they were being prayed for, those with belief in prayer saw different results than those with less belief.
- Intercessory prayer coronary care: Dr. William Harris and his colleagues performed a study in a coronary care unit, and found that those who had been prayed for did better than those who had not been prayed for.
- Hernia patients and prayer: A study was done that appeared to show that intercessory prayers helped produce better outcomes in some variable related to hernia operation recovery than taped messages of suggestions of accelerated recovery.
- AIDS and intercessory prayer: Dr. Elisabeth Targ, daughter of a physicist who had studied ESP, published a study alleging that HIV/AIDS patients had better outcomes when prayed for.
Faith, Prayer and Long Life
Does following a faith tradition help lengthen your life and improve your health? Some studies seem to show that if you believe with, and attempt to commune with, a higher power, you might enjoy better health and longer life.
- Every day life: The University of Toronto conducted a study about how people believe God influences them — and their health and other decisions — in every day life.
- Prayer and relationships: There are studies that link long life and good health to good relationships. A recent study from Florida State University suggests that praying for someone else can better those relationships.
- Meditation and health: Stress relief and meditation can aid in your health, and suggests a study from George Mason University, published in Psychological Science, it can also enhance some of your mental abilities.
- Controlling diabetes with mindfulness: Mindfulness meditation, based on Vipassana Buddhism was shown to help some improve their health, including helping diabetics control their own blood sugar.
- Senior health and religious involvement: High levels of religious involvement among the elderly were associated with lower levels of depression and disability.
- Blood pressure and prayer: A study at Duke University found that those who pray regularly and attend religious services often have lower blood pressure than those who don’t.
Studies Suggesting No Link Between Faith, Prayer and Healing
While there are studies that suggest a link between belief in a higher power and healing, there are others that seem to show that such connections do not exist. Here are some studies that might cast doubt on the direct connections between faith, prayer, healing and long life.
- Cardiac bypass patients and prayer: A study at Harvard found that those who were certain of receiving intercessory prayer during a heart bypass actually had more complications.
- Faith healing studies are dangerous: Dr. Bruce Flamm writes about his findings that putting to much…faith…in faith healing studies and their dubious outcomes can harm more than help.
- Child fatalities and religious healing: A study published in Pediatrics looked at the instances of child fatality in sects devoted to faith healing, and found those that shunned medical help in favor of prayer and faith only saw higher deaths.
- Kings and prayer: Sir Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, conducted a prayer study, concluding that God doesn’t answer intercessory prayers after discovering that kings who are prayed for live shorter lives than well-to-do, but not royal, people.
- No scientific basis for intercessory prayer: This study looks at different instances of intercessory prayer, and finds that in controlled trials, the effects of distance intercessory prayer can’t be substantiated.
- Prayer doesn’t help heart patients: A study at Duke found no benefit from intercessory prayer on heart patients, seeming to contradict an earlier study they claimed showed a difference.