Prayer can improve physical health
By TAMARA MCLEAN, THEAUSTRALIAN.NEWS.COM.AU
Added: Mon, 21 May 2007 23:00:00 UTC
Thanks to Max Clixby for the link.
COMMUNICATING with God or other spirits can improve your physical health, Australian researchers suggest.
A new report has reviewed controversial scientific evidence that religious or spiritual prayer can boost a believer's emotional and physical wellbeing.
The review, published in the Medical Journal of Australia today, states that 74 per cent of Australians believe in a higher power, with many praying regularly as part of their worship.
"Some studies have shown a positive association between prayer and improved health outcomes," wrote lead author Marek Jantos, Director of the Behavioural Medicine Institute in Adelaide.
Mr Jantos, a clinical psychologist, said there were four ways prayer could have a positive effect on the body.
The first was through its "meditative" effects.
He said prayer was a Western form of transcendental meditation that worked in a similar way, slowing the breath and lowering the heart rate and blood pressure, thereby enhancing physiological wellbeing.
It also boosted positivity and improved mood, both of which had positive health-related spin-offs, Mr Jantos wrote.
Praying could also have a placebo effect on health. For instance, in a study of heart patients, those who were being prayed for by others made significantly better health improvements than those who were not prayed for.
But the most controversial benefit claimed by believers is through direct supernatural intervention from above.
Mr Jantos and co-author Professor Hosen Kiat, from the University of NSW, said the Bible offered several references to making a sick person well and Jesus himself was known for his personal practice of prayer and for his miraculous healings.
The researchers warned that while this area was often dismissed as being beyond the reach of science, it should not be underestimated.
"Irrespective of whether scientists seek to attribute the benefits of prayer to the relaxation response, placebo or positive emotions, the most common reason people turn to prayer is their belief in a divine being that transcends the natural universe and hears and responds to prayer," the pair wrote.
They quoted a chronically-ill elderly woman who believed God took her pain away every time she prayed.
Other researchers writing in the journal's special spirituality supplement call for more work to explore the link between religion and health and its relevance for Australian doctors and patients.
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