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The Positive Health Effects of Prayer

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Did you catch the brief but remarkable story about researchers who have concluded (once again) that more and more Americans are praying about their health? As striking as that is, it's not the big surprise in the latest study.

Here's what is: as of 2007 the percent of adults who are praying about their health is now at 49 percent -- no kidding, about half of the adult population -- up from 43 percent in 2002 and 14 percent in 1999. That's a lot of prayers.

But what about the results? With all that lofty thinking going on are people actually satisfied with the outcome? Apparently so. The researchers commented in their report that a huge majority reported positive experiences.

Harold Koenig, M.D. isn't surprised. In the introduction to his now-classic Handbook of Religion and Health, a definitive analysis of the effect of religion and spirituality on health, Koenig noted: "As those of us who have labored in this field for many years have long suspected, the relationship between religion and health, on average and at the population level, is overwhelmingly positive."

Does this decade-long trend signal that people aren't putting as much faith in drug-based therapies as they once did? Not necessarily. Many who said they pray about health also told survey-takers they're using prayer as a supplement to their medical treatment, apparently hoping for the best of both worlds.

Still, for some whose treatment for bodily pain and ailments is solely mental and spiritual, the results are impressive. Mind-healing, which doesn't need to be helped along by drugs, has been the health care method of choice for some people for years. Critical to understanding how that could be is an understanding of just how much the human mind alone affects the action and condition of the body, and of the potential for spirituality to improve the human mind. An improved mental state, in other words, can promote health.

The research suggests that the average man and woman, through their everyday experiences with prayer and health, get this. They get it in spite of the more "rational" materialistic arguments made by critics of non-traditional methods of treatment who say that all this spiritual stuff is without convincing evidence.

Yet what the critics aren't embracing, the people are: the potential of a more spiritual consciousness to improve and restore health, and the confirmation from their own experience that indeed it does.

Which then raises a larger question about the future of health care. It isn't so much about where we're headed, really -- the public is showing a strong interest in finding alternative methods of care -- but who will take the lead?

Open-minded men and women, it appears, are the "experts" to watch. In the trenches of health care decision-making everyday, they're challenging long-held assumptions, looking at all the health care options before them, including prayer, and as surveys show they are utilizing prayer to a growing degree. For those who thought health care reform was just about cost control and access, think again.