Scientists weigh in on benefits of religion.
Article Type: Brief article
Subject: Critically ill (Religious aspects)
Critically ill (Health aspects)
Critically ill (Psychological aspects)
Mortality (United States)
Mortality (Risk factors)
Mortality (Research)
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs; 310 Science & research
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 218313975

Religion may have a direct impact, not only on an individual's spiritual wellness, but on health itself. "Even accounting for medications," says Dr. Gail Ironson, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Miami who studies HIV and religious belief, "spirituality predicts for better disease control."

People who do not attend religious services have twice the risk of dying over the next 8 years as people who regularly attend religious services at least once a week.

The recovery rate for religious believers from terminal illnesses has also been found to be higher. Some skeptics could argue that the statistics can be chalked up to the body's reactions to the psychology; a believer's fight against HIV lessens the virus load simply because the spiritual connection lowered cortisol levels, a stress hormone.

Early on, researchers compared religious healing to the depth of their belief like the placebo effect of medicating with sugar pills. Just the opposite can also be true, such as cases where a patient's tumors return when he learns the experimental treatment, which had been working for him, was unsuccessful for other patients. Planting doubt that shakes a patient's religious beliefs has proven detrimental to recovery. Kluger poses the question, "If a woman given a diagnosis of breast cancer is already offered the services of an oncologist, a psychologist, and a reconstructive surgeon, why shouldn't her doctor discuss her religious needs with her and include a pastor in the mix if that would help?"

For now, religion is still seen as more of an alternative, or at best a supplement, to medicine. Ultimately, we should be open-minded and address all aspects of an ailing patient's well-being.

Kluger, J. (2009, February 12). The biology of belief. Time. Retrieved February 16, 2009, from,8599,1879016-1,00.html
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