Does religious activity improve health outcomes? A critical review of the recent literature
Objective: Many Americans use religious activity to cope with stressful\nlife events. Our goal was to review systematically the recent medical\nliterature to assess the role of religion in health outcomes.\nData Sources: We conducted a comprehensive literature search using\nMEDLINE to identify studies published in the English language between\nJanuary 1999 and June 2003 describing the effect of religion on health\noutcomes. The search strategy used the medical subject headings (MeSH)\nof religion; religion AND medicine; religion OR intercessory prayer;\nprayer; prayer therapy; religious rites; faith; medicine, traditional;\nreligiosity; religion AND psychology; and religion AND health.\nStudy Selection: Religious, but not spiritual, interventions were\nselected for inclusion. Thus, papers describing interventions such as\nyoga, meditation, acupuncture, and qigong were excluded. Manuscripts\ndescribing randomized controlled trials, clinical trials, and\npartnerships with faith-based organizations were included.\nData Extraction: We found five randomized controlled trials, four\nclinical trials, and seven faith-based partnerships that describe the\nimpact of religious intervention on health outcomes. Papers were\nanalyzed by four reviewers using a modified Delphi technique to reach\nconsensus.\nData Synthesis: Religious intervention such as intercessory prayer may\nimprove success rates of in vitro fertilization, decrease length of\nhospital stay and duration of fever in septic patients, increase immune\nfunction, improve rheumatoid arthritis, and reduce anxiety. Frequent\nattendance at religious services likely improves health behaviors.\nMoreover, prayer may decrease adverse outcomes in patients with cardiac\ndisease.\nConclusions: Religious activity may improve health outcomes.