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Religion, Spirituality, and Medicine: How Are They Related and What Does It Mean?

 Over the past decade, the medical community has become increasingly interested in the possibility of bringing down the wall that has separated religion from medicine for more than two centuries. In this issue of the “Proceedings” are reported different approaches to studying the relationship between religion and health. One is a review by Mueller and colleagues of research exploring the effects of religion on mental and physical health. In that review, religious beliefs and practices are thought to evoke health effects through psychosocial, behavioral, and physiological mechanisms that are known, understood, and accepted within the field of traditional science.

 The other approach described in this issue of the Proceedings by Aviles and colleagues is a double-blind, randomized controlled trial that examined the effects of intercessory prayer on health outcomes. Patients were randomized to either a group being prayed for or to a control group; neither physicians nor patients knew who was being prayed for, nor did the intercessors know the patients they were praying for.

 Despite the many unknowns and the need for further research and greater understanding of these relationships, physicians can even now begin to address the spiritual needs of patients and yet avoid most of the dangers and pitfalls.

 Religious beliefs may have a powerful influence on the health of our patients, and we need to know about them.


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