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Study on Christian Scientists finds health benefits

A Harvard research team says adherents are more satisfied with life and

By Jane LampmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 15, 1999



BOSTON

A first-of-its-kind study on the health practices of Christian Scientists, released yesterday by Harvard Medical School, shows "intriguing health benefits."

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People identifying themselves as Christian Scientists in the study "use far more spiritual healing" than others and "are far, far more likely to be satisfied with their lives," the researchers found.

Fifty-two percent of the Christian Scientists said they were very satisfied with life compared with 37 percent of non-Christian Scientists, and 71 percent reported very good or excellent health compared with 61 percent of others.

These findings "are at odds with the perception that Christian Scientists are less healthy than non-Christian Scientists," say the researchers at Harvard's Mind/Body Medical Institute.

Results of the national survey on "self-reported health and illness" counter conventional wisdom on several fronts. For example, it shows that Christian Scientists report fewer illnesses than non-Christian Scientists, but also that they are as likely as the general population to report going to a doctor or a hospital.

The report doesn't say why physician visits or hospital admissions took place, nor does it indicate whether they had any relation to illnesses or symptoms reported elsewhere in the study, says Herbert Benson, president of the Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Gary Jones, spokesman for The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, points out that Christian Scientists may make doctor or hospital visits for medical exams required by employers, schools, the military, or insurance companies and for purposes of childbirth.

This study grows out of an interest in the relationship between spirituality and health that has burgeoned in the medical community the past 15 years. Research studies are multiplying, and are beginning to look at prayer as well as the link between church-going and well-being. This is the first study of its type on Christian Scientists.

Dr. Benson says his study focused on Christian Scientists "because of the perception that they use their religious beliefs in healing and their tendency to not use routine medical care."

"What better way to explore these connections between mind/body healing and health than to research those who incorporate ... healing practices, including spirituality, meditation, and prayer, into their everyday routines," Benson says.

The fact that Christian Scientists report less illness than others, he says, can be tied to much greater use of two practices identified in the study: special religious services and spiritual healing.

Benson suggests that "mind/body healing - including spiritual approaches - could offer important health benefits and may be synergistic to conventional medicine." The study urges further research on whether conventional and unconventional medicine can be combined with spiritual healing to bring significant benefits.

Benson and Jeffery Dusek, the Institute's associate director of clinical research, co-authored the study, which appears this month in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, a Towson, Md.-based monthly medical journal.