Monday, March 4, 2013

Prayer and the immune system

One last thought about the healing power of prayer. There is medical evidence (not proof) to support the contention that people who pray are less likely to get sick, more likely to recover from surgery and illness, and better able to cope mentally and emotionally when they are sick. There are also those who believe this is bunk. Most of us who pray are predisposed to believe in its benefits. Based on what I’ve written in my previous post, you know where I stand.

For me, the most persuasive evidence for prayer’s healing power rests in its ability to maintain and improve the function of the immune system. Chemical connections have been identified between molecules produced by the central nervous system and cells of the immune system. This mind-body-soul connection can be influenced by many factors, including the peace, hope and confidence that prayer can impart to those of us who partake. As I wrote on this blog several years ago, I’m pneumapsychosomatic. Are you?

Regardless of one’s faith, it’s hard to deny the placebo effect that can nourish the function of the immune system. I believe there’s more to it than that, of course. According to Dr. Harold Koenig, the director of the Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality at Duke University, when prayer uplifts or calms the spirit of people, fewer stress-induced hormones are produced by the adrenal glands. I guess I have Addison’s Disease to thank in part for lowering my stress level since my adrenals are now officially off-line. “The peace that passeth understanding” (Philippians 4:7) also figures in. As I wrote previously, what we’re dealing with here is a great mystery.

Many studies have shown that patients with serious diseases who are prayed for by others actually heal better and faster than those who are not prayed for by others. Praying for the healing of others is a form of alternative medicine known as “distance healing.” A laying on of hands, including that of healthcare professionals, is never wrong to do with someone who is sick. I wish my doctors and nurses did more and ordered fewer tests and scans. Human touch alone can be a powerful force of healing and doesn’t require a medical degree to practice it. But when you can't be there to pray with someone face to face, interceding for them in prayer from a distance can still impart health benefits.

As with other forms of alternative medicine, meditation and prayer can help us empower our minds with energy, aid in the body’s recovery, improve quality of life, and improve outcomes. They can save our lives. Dr. Larry Dossey, the author of “Prayer is good medicine,” recommends, “…don’t wait for the results of more double-blind studies to pray. We can stand to have more extraneous prayer in this world of ours.” The next time you pray for someone with cancer, make sure to include the building up of their immune system among your petitions. 

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