Spirituality Cuts Mortality Risk

Strong personal faith and a social support system such as that provided by membership in a church appear to reduce the risk of death in patients after cardiac surgery, according to a report presented at the Spirituality and Healing in Medicine conference last week. Dr. Harold G. Koenig of Duke University presented data on survival after open-heart surgery in the elderly at Dartmouth Medical Center in New Hampshire. Researchers there found that patients who reported strong faith, and who said they had depended on that faith to help them cope, had a mortality rate one-third lower than patients who did not report feeling a sense of faith. The combination of a strong personal faith together with a strong support system, such as provided in a church community, was associated with the lowest mortality rate. In a second study of 5,000 individuals, ongoing for almost 30 years, researchers with the Human Population Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, report that those who go to church once a week or more have 25-35% lower mortality rates from all causes than non-churchgoers. "Some of the clues that this study brought up help us to understand why religious involvement might help to extend survival. The frequent church attenders were more likely during the 28 years to stop smoking, increase exercise, maintain their marriages and, in general, lead healthier lifestyles," Koenig noted. The third study, conducted at Duke University Medical Center, included a random sample of over 1,700 patients. "We found that after controlling carefully for chronic health conditions, functional status and depression, those people who are attending religious services... had about half the likelihood of having high interleukin-6 levels in their blood, suggesting that those people who are attending church might actually have stronger immune systems that you can measure," Koenig said. Religious faith may help to prevent depression because it gives a person a world view of suffering and illness, Koenig suggested. "Of course if people believe there is a God that is punishing them, that will have a negative effect. And so I think that what you believe does make a difference," he concluded.

COMMENT: I sure hope that someday it will be considered malpractice NOT to tell patients that getting close to God can definitely improve your physical health. That, of course, is not the only reason to incorporate spiritual activities into your life, but there certainly are physical benefits. I am continuously amazed at the power of prayer and how effective a resource it is. It works so well it is almost frightening.

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