Is Religion Good for Your Health?
Prayer, church attendance, and abiding faith all seem to positively affect blood pressure, heart, and coping skills."God for the 21st Century," by permission of Templeton Foundation Press.
A vivacious--and vexing--lady visited my medical office often, armed with abeguiling smile, a rapier wit, and intractable pain from arthritis. Eachvisit brought forth a languorous litany of incurable woe: She had sampledevery painkiller in the pharmacopoeia, with scant success."Is there anything that does help you?" I asked one day, in desperation.
"Faith and prayer!" she exclaimed. "And singing in the church choir!"Faith, prayer...and singing? Are these listed in the Physician's DeskReference? Should they be? Karl Marx dismissed religion as "the opiate ofthe people." Is religion, like codeine and other opiates, an effective"drug" for pain and other disorders? What's the proper dose? Are there sideeffects?
The medical effects of faith are a matter not just of faith but also ofscience. More than 300 scientific studies demonstrate the medicalvalue of religious commitment (including worship attendance, prayer,Scripture study, and active participation in a spiritual community). Thesebenefits include enhanced prevention and treatment of mental disorders(e.g., depression, suicide, and anxiety); medical and surgical illnesses(e.g., heart disease, cancer, sexually transmitted diseases); andaddictions, reduced pain and disability, and prolonged survival. Inaddition, spiritual treatment (e.g., prayer, religiously basedpsychotherapy) enhances recovery.
My answer is yes! The documented health benefits of religious beliefs andpractices and the burgeoning spiritual interests of patients compel us toaddress matters of faith with our patients. All medical professionals canlearn to recognize the medical impact of faith and to encourage, whenappropriate, the healthy use of spiritual beliefs and practices. Praying foror with patients may be a valuable, meaningful option in certain instances,depending on the beliefs and wishes of both the patient and the doctor.