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More proof that prayer works? Religious patients found to be healthier than others


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(NaturalNews) Cancer patients who are more religious or spiritual in their beliefs experience better physical function and less severe cancer symptoms, according to a series of studies published in the journal Cancer on August 10. The studies add to a growing body of evidence that the "spiritual" side of life is able to influence the body as well.

Collectively, the new studies included more than 44,000 participants. They also found that spiritual beliefs were associated with improved social connectedness. The studies discovered that the benefits came from having a spiritual or religious worldview but did not seem influenced by the degree of a person's religious or spiritual practice.

Spirituality is "multi-dimensional"

One study examined data on more than 32,000 adults who had been diagnosed with a wide variety of cancers of various stages. The review found that the patients who scored higher on scales of spiritual or religious belief also reported having better overall health.

More specifically, people with a sense of being connected to something greater than oneself tended to report better physical function. They also reported fewer and less severe symptoms of cancer and fewer and less severe side effects from cancer treatment.

"Cancer patients who reported higher meaning, purpose, and spiritual connection in life also reported better physical health, as did patients who reported more positive religious or spiritual explanations for the cancer (versus a sense of fatalism or anger towards God)," said lead researcher Heather Jim of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.

Spiritual activities and practices such as meditation, prayer and church attendance were not correlated with physical health.

A second study, which was conducted by researchers from Northwestern University, examined prior research on a total of 14,000 cancer patients. The analysis found that numerous measures of religiousness and spirituality were all independently associated with higher self-reported social health and relationships: holding religious beliefs, having a benevolent image of God, and reporting oneself as having good spiritual well being. This connection was independent of demographic factors such as age, gender or race.

Researcher John M. Salsman, now of Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, emphasized that spirituality and religiousness are multi-dimensional rather than a single defined trait. He noted that some spiritual and religious characteristics were more strongly associated with positive health outcomes. People who reported higher spiritual well being or more daily spiritual experiences, for example, reported even higher social connectedness than those who simply reported religious beliefs.

Social connectedness has, in itself, been linked to improved long-term health.

The power of prayer?

The researchers speculated as to why more spiritual people might endure cancer treatment better.

"One plausible explanation is that when patients view God as a loving, benevolent being, that may provide a source of comfort and strength to the patient, allowing him or her to manage the distressing nature of their symptoms even if the frequency of symptoms did not change," Salsman said.

A major limitation of the studies, the researchers noted, is that they relied on patients to report their own health rather than on objective measurements.

"An alternate example from personality research is that people who are more likely to be religious are more agreeable in nature," Salsman said. "They would also be less likely to complain about their physical health, even in the midst of treatment for cancer."

Jim said that another explanation could be that religious people are more likely to have social support or are more likely to engage in healthier behaviors. Religious worldviews might also lead to reduced stress, which is known to hamper healing.

Another possible explanation not mentioned by the researchers could be that religious people are more likely to have others praying for their recovery. Numerous studies have shown that people prayed for -- whether the prayer takes place in their presence or without their awareness -- show more and faster improvement than those not being prayed for.

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