Healing Power of Prayer Doubted in Patient Study

Times Staff Writer

Prayers from distant congregations did not affect patients’ recovery from coronary artery procedures, but bedside therapies using music and touch before surgery reduced stress and offered a slight advantage in survival, scientists reported Friday.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, looked at 748 patients at nine U.S. medical centers.

Patients were randomly chosen to receive off-site prayer, bedside therapy, both treatments or none.

“This is a test of whether medicine can help people do what they’ve already been doing for thousands of years in virtually every culture in the world,” said Dr. Mitchell W. Krucoff, a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina and the study’s lead author.


Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist congregations were given patients’ names and prayed for them for five to 30 days.

Survival rates did not differ among those who received prayer and those who did not, the study found.

Krucoff said the study was “not a disproof of prayer,” noting that most of the patients -- whether or not they received prayers from the congregations -- had friends and relatives praying for them.

The bedside therapy given to patients included listening to music, imagining favorite places, practicing yoga-like breathing and being touched by practitioners of alternative medicine.


Researchers said the therapeutic benefit could have resulted from the presence of a caring individual who helped reduce patients’ preoperative anxiety. Stress reduction could affect physiological processes and improve survival, Krucoff said.