Prayer does not help heart patients, study finds

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A multi-center US study of 748 patients, who were to undergo treatment for coronary artery disease, has found that prayer by Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist groups had no measurable effects on the medical health of the study subjects. The prayers were conducted by established congregations and were held away from the hospitals.

The study, published in the 16 July 2005 issue of The Lancet, found that the likelihood of an adverse cardiovascular event in hospital, re-admission or death within six months was unaffected by prayer.

None of the patients were told that they were prayed for, and none of the prayer groups knew who they prayed for. Nevertheless, 67% of the non-prayer group believed they were being prayed for - a potential placebo effect that may have hidden any small differences between the two groups.

The study also examined the effects of "music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy" before heart surgery. Practitioners qualified to Level 1 Healing Touch taught the patient relaxation techniques and played soothing music before applying 21 Healing Touch hand positions, over a 40 minute session.

There was no significant change in the combined chance of an adverse cardiovascular event in hospital, re-admission or death within six months. However, while the set of patients was evenly split, only 7 patients who received MIT therapy died, and 20 patients who did not receive it died. The result is not highly significant due to the low overall number of people who died.

A number of studies has recently examined the possible effects of prayer, with mixed results. While some religious groups have hailed studies which found positive results [1], skeptics have challenged the very notion of scientifically examining prayer [2], and have described past studies as flawed or even fraudulent. [3]

"The mechanisms through which distant intercessory prayer might convey healing benefit are unknown", the authors of the study explain. One hypothesis they propose for such effects are "non-local features of consciousness based theoretically around observations in quantum physics."

The study was conducted by a team of 16 researchers at Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), Duke University Medical Center, the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC), and seven other academic medical institutions across the United States.

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