Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2014 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified health care professional before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.
Uses based on scientific evidence
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare professional.
There are several studies of intercessory prayer on behalf of patients in intensive care units with severe heart disease or infections. Although some research reports promising results, most trials have not been well designed or reported. As a result, a firm conclusion is not possible.
Limited study of prayer in patients with AIDS reports fewer new AIDS-related illnesses and hospitalizations, although due to methodological problems these results cannot be considered conclusive.
Alcohol or drug dependency
Initial research reports no effects of intercessory prayer on alcohol or drug dependency. Better research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Prayer has been studied in patients with anxiety but results are mixed.
Blood pressure control
Initial study reports no effects of intercessory prayer on blood pressure. Better research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Limited research in burn patients reports improved outcomes when prayer is used, although due to methodological problems these results cannot be considered conclusive.
Initial studies in patients with cancer (such as leukemia) report variable effects on disease progression or death rates when intercessory prayer is used. Better quality research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Cardiac bypass (complications)
In one well-designed clinical trial, intercessory prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from coronary artery bypass surgery. Interestingly, patients that knew they were receiving intercessory prayer (as opposed to those who did not know) were associated with a higher incidence of complications. More study is needed to confirm these results.
There is not enough scientific evidence to make a firm recommendation about prayer for chronic pain.
Prayer appears to be a significant "softening" event for religious couples, facilitating reconciliation and problem-solving based on one study.
Early study suggests psychiatric inpatients might benefit from anonymous distant healing intention.
The potential effect of intercessory prayer on pregnancy rates in women being treated with in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer has been studied. Preliminary results seem positive, but further research is necessary.
Heart disease/heart attack
Initial studies in patients with heart disease report variable effects on the severity of illness, complications during hospitalization, procedure outcome, or death rates when intercessory prayer is used. Better quality research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Improving health outcomes (general)
There are numerous studies on the effects of intercessory prayer (praying on behalf of patients) on illness severity, death, and well-being of patients or loved ones. Results are variable with some studies reporting benefits of prayer on severity or length of illness and others suggesting no effects. Most research has not been well designed or reported and as a result, a firm conclusion is not possible. Additional research is needed in this area with clear descriptions of prayer techniques and well-defined health outcomes.Several studies in which patients knew that prayers were being said on their behalf report benefits, although it is not clear that prayer is superior to other forms of compassionate interaction.
Prayer may help reduce the length of hospital stay as well as the duration of fever in patients with infections. However, early study is controversial and additional study is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.
Kidney disease (kidney transplant)
Preliminary research shows positive trends associated with prayer and spirituality in patients with end stage renal disease who are coping after kidney transplant. Further research is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
Initial studies report fewer birth complications in people who are religious or pray, although due to methodological problems, these results cannot be considered conclusive.
Preliminary study suggests that older adults who participate in private religious activity before the onset of impairment in activities of daily living appear to have a survival advantage over those who do not. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Forty-eight percent of the homeless women in one study reported that the use of prayer significantly related to less use of alcohol and/or street drugs, fewer perceived worries, and fewer depressive symptoms. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn in this area.
Quality of life in chronically ill patients
Limited study reports improved quality of life in patients who desire others to pray for them and receive healing. Better quality research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Initial research suggests that in-person intercessory prayer (praying by others in the presence of patients) may reduce pain, fatigue, tenderness, swelling, and weakness when it is used in addition to standard care. Better quality research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Sickle cell anemia
Prayer has been studied as a coping mechanism for patients with sickle cell disease with mixed results.
There is some research that suggests that religiously active persons may be less likely to smoke cigarettes or, if they do smoke, may be likely to smoke fewer cigarettes.
Prayer has not been shown to help prevent or treat diabetes or related health issues. Diabetes should be treated by a qualified healthcare professional using proven therapies.
Early study suggests that distant healing by experienced healers may have no effect in removal or size of skin warts.
*Key to grades:
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use;B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use;D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work);F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).
For full grading rationale, click here.
Uses based on tradition or theory
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional
Adjunct in surgery (perioperative management), angioplasty, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), cystic fibrosis, gastrointestinal disorders, immune system stimulation, increased cerebral blood flow, inflammatory dermatoses, lung disease, lung function (successful liberation from prolonged mechanical ventilation), meningitis, menopause, neurological disorders, respiratory disease, self-esteem, spinal cord injury, stress, stroke, viral infection (polio), wound healing.
Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
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