THURSDAY, July 14, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Amid the debate over the value of prayer and so-called "noetic interventions" to help people heal, a new study finds that prayer and bedside therapy of music, imagery and touch don't improve the outcomes of patients undergoing heart procedures.
However, patients receiving music, imagery and touch (MIT) therapy did have a slightly lower mortality rate at six months.
The findings appear in the July 16 edition of The Lancet.
The study, called Monitoring and Actualization of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II, was led by Dr. Mitchell Krucoff of Duke University Medical Center. He and his colleagues randomly assigned 748 patients undergoing heart catheterization and percutaneous coronary intervention to receive prayer from offsite prayer groups or no prayer. There were Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist prayer groups.
In addition, half of the patients received MIT therapy and half did not. The MIT therapy involved teaching patients relaxed breathing techniques and playing easy listening, classical or country music during their procedure.
Krucoff's team found that compared to no prayer or MIT therapy, prayer alone or prayer plus MIT did not affect whether patients had a "major cardiovascular event" while in the hospital or had to be readmitted to the hospital or died during the six months following the procedure.
The only exception was that patients who received MIT therapy had less emotional stress before their procedure and slightly lower death rates during the six months after the procedure, compared with patients who did not receive MIT therapy.
"Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterization or percutaneous coronary intervention," the researchers concluded.
Marilyn Schlitz is vice president for research and education at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, a nonprofit organization in Petaluma, Calif., that, according to its Web site, "conducts and sponsors leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness -- including perceptions, beliefs, attention, intention and intuition."
She believes the effect of prayer on healing needs further study.
"The majority of people in this country make use of prayer or compassionate intention for healing, so it needs to be investigated," said Schlitz. "There has been a taboo in the past about bringing science to bear on religious issues."
Schlitz thinks the study researchers may have been measuring the wrong results. "The questions you ask influence the answers you get," she said. "Probably the next stage in this research is that scientists come together in a really open-minded way and talk about complexities of this work and how we can learn what can hurt and what can help us in the context of prayer and healing."
Another expert sees the new study as part of an evolving relationship between faith and science.
"Spirituality in one form or another is important to most people, and never more so than at times of crisis," said Dr. David L. Katz, an associate clinical professor of public health and director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. "The tendency to seek comfort from forces and designs larger than oneself when faced with serious illness or injury is almost irresistible."
The healing arts and prayer have been combined as long as there have been medicine men, shamans, and other spiritual healers, Katz said. "But biomedical science, per se, and religious prayer have diverged historically. We have the ascendancy of patient-centered care and increasing interest in so-called alternative medicine to thank for their pairing," he said.
Wherever such inquiries lead, it is promising that faith and science are looking for common ground, Katz said.
He added, "That suggests the right blend of respect, open-mindedness and cautious skepticism is guiding the progress of medical practice. Were I a spiritual man, that's the very thing I would pray for."
To learn more, visit the Institute of Noetic Sciences.