Religion and Health

Somehow, every December, I start thinking about religion and its role in our life.

As a physician, I am always looking for ways to inform my patients that certain type of life style is good for them. But I never talk about religion. I believe it is a personal and private matter. But I have written on this subject in the past. These columns can be read on my website –

What is interesting is that a Newsweek poll shows 72 percent of Americans would welcome a conversation with their physician about faith. The same number say they believe that praying to God can cure someone, even if science says the person doesn’t stand a chance.

My question is: Do we need religion to stay healthy and happy? Does religion make us a good person?

Let us look at the second question first. Peter Alliss, TV commentator, author and golfer says in a Golf Digest interview:

“I am a humanist. I am not an agnostic or an atheist, really, though I don’t believe there is a higher power in the form of an old man with a white beard, controlling events from the heavens. I believe you go through life learning by observing good and bad in other people, and putting those lessons into practice. I believe you do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and it doesn’t take a Bible to convince me of that.”

Alliss is not the only one who believes that being religious is not always synonymous with being a good person. One can be a good spiritual person without being a religious person.

Although religion is a strong positive factor for many people, others find that it puts constraint on their freedom to be a broad minded good individual. Then there are those who use religion in a very negative way. Perhaps more than anything negative application of religion gives it a bad name.

For most people religion is a very personal and private thing. We cannot impose our beliefs on others. If people want to change then they have to search for the truth and pursue it. That desire has to come from within. It cannot be imposed from outside.

As we renew our resolutions for the New Year, our desire to change ourselves has to come from within us. Most of us have a desire to be a better, kinder, gentler person who can make a difference in the world we live. Whether religion can help fulfill our desire to be a good person depends on one’s belief and how it is applied in life.

Does religion make us healthy and happy? Should religion be part of our health care system?

The Newsweek poll says that 84 percent of Americans think that praying for the sick improves their chances of recovery; 28 percent think religion and medicine should be separate.

What does science say?

Again there are differing opinions. The difficulty is – how do you measure the power of prayer? It would be impossible to do a double blind prospective trial on the power of prayer.

The Newsweek article says that Dr. Lynda H. Powell, an epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, reviewed about 150 papers on this subject. Her findings? While faith provides comfort in times of illness, it does not significantly slow cancer growth or improve recovery from acute illness.

There was one positive finding. People who regularly attend church have a 25 percent reduction in mortality. They live longer than people who are not church goers.

The Newsweek poll also shows that 84 percent of Americans said praying for others can have a positive effect on their recovery, and 74 percent said that would be true even if they didn’t know the patient. But this is not confirmed by scientific studies.

But whatever science says, every individual has his or her spiritual relationship with God. How we use that relationship to stay healthy depends on us. If we believe in something then it usually works.

I feel December is good time of the year to reflect on such matters. And remember, do unto others as you would have them do unto you! It does not matter whether you are agnostic, atheist or religious.

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Religion and Peace

My first column appeared on August 13th, 1998. In that my imaginary friend Dave asks, “Doc, how can I stay healthy?”

This question is valid today as it was four years ago. Perhaps it has been valid for many hundred years. I guess our ancestors cared about their health as much as we do. And our struggle to stay healthy will continue. There are no short cuts and no magic pills. Its hard work!

Some people believe that physical health should go hand in hand with spiritual health. But is our spiritual health in any better shape than our physical health?

My December 30th, 1999 column was about “nirvana for the lifetime”! As somebody has said, “If a man thinks about his physical or moral state, he usually discovers that he is ill.” If we look at the philosophy and practices of all the great religions of the world we would not find any people in the world who do not believe in the existence and survival of human souls.

Unfortunately, we have people in our society who do not believe in this.

More than half the world’s population is made of Christians and Moslems. Like the Bible, the Qur’an is a book of divine revelation. The Bible and the Qur’an both reveal the word of God, says an article in The Newsweek. Both speak of prophets, redemption, heaven and hell.

Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism make up most of the rest of the world who believe in God and the triumph of good over evil.

Historically, people have been fighting with each other since Adam and Eve. All the messengers of God have come and gone. They made many changes. But they did not abolish greed, conflicts, wars, hatred, revenge and thirst for blood.

Religion and education has made us smarter but we cannot get rid of our primitive instinct of hatred and revenge. Well meaning decent people try very hard to suppress those unhealthy feelings. And to most extent they succeed. But there are others who use their religion and education to produce more powerful and sophisticated weapons of mass destruction.

Nobody talks about the gentler kinder society anymore. Not even in the month of December. We are still talking about war, suicide bombings and revenge. All the talk is about attack. Is there a safe place in this world to hide, relax and meditate?

I was looking at my millennium edition column in The Medicine Hat News. It was about ELMOS (exercise, laughter, meditation, organic healthy food, stress relief). The message was and is to combine physical health with spiritual health. Exercise for the body, peace for the mind, prayers for the soul. That was two years ago!

In the last month or so, Hindus celebrated Divali, Muslims celebrated Ramadan and Eid, Jews celebrated Hanukkah, and now the Christians will celebrate Christmas. That means billions of people all over the world would have gone through prayers and celebration in one month. Is this going to change the bad and the ugly in our society?

May be it is time to clone a messenger with DNA from Jesus, Confucius, Moses, Mohamed, Krishna, Buddha, and call him – JECOMOMOKRIB. The question is – will he succeed where others have failed? Especially with a name like JECOMOMOKRIB? Sounds like Michael Jackson!

So how do you plan stay healthy in mind and body in 2003? Do you think Michael Jackson can heal the world or do we need JECOMOMOKRIB?

Greetings for the holiday season and Happy New Year. Let there be peace for all! Amen.

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Depending on the moon’s visibility this week, 1.3 billion Muslims all over the world will be celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan. This celebration, “festival of breaking fast”, is called Id or Id al-Fitr.

Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Muslim lunar year. All Muslims are expected to fast from dawn to dusk, refrain from drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse. Those who are sick, travelers, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children are exempted.

The aim of this self-discipline is to remind and reinforce among all Muslims their commitment to the legacy and teachings of prophet Mohamed. It also helps them understand and connect with their fellow human beings, and ultimately connect with God.

Islam, the religion of all Muslims, was revealed to Prophet Mohamed in Arabia in the 7th century AD. Islam is an Arabic word which means “surrender”. A Muslim accepts to surrender to the will of Allah – Arabic for God.

The will of God (Allah) was revealed to his messenger, Mohamed, and documented in the holy book called Quran (Koran). Ramadan marks the first time the Quran was revealed to prophet Mohamed. Mohamed was the last messenger and prophet of God after Adam, Noah, Jesus and others.

Historians consider the religion of Islam as one of the outstanding phenomenon of history. But Islam has no central authority (like Vatican) to guide its followers. And there are numerous divisions and subdivisions that interpret Quran in many different ways.

All Muslims observe the five pillars of religion. These are: recital of the Creed (There is no God but God, and Mohamed is the Prophet of God), prayer, fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage to Mecca.

Prophet Mohamed had two sources of authority, one religious and other secular.

After the death of the prophet, two streams of thoughts split Muslims into Sunnis (the majority) and Shias (means a stream). Sunnis believe that Mohamed did not appoint a successor to take over the religious authority. So it was left to the Faithful to interpret the Quran.

The Shias believe that after the prophet’s death, Divine power was transferred to Hazrat Ali, prophet’s son-in-law, as the first Imam or spiritual chief of the devout. Shias followed the guidance of hereditary Imams. Some time they failed to agree who the rightful Imam was, resulting in further subdivisions.

In Islam, there are no priests or monks. There is no confession of sins except to God. Cleanliness and personal hygiene is important. Prayer is a daily necessity. Wars are condemned because Islam is a religion of peace.

If so, then why are Muslims constantly linked to violence and terrorism in the media and in the minds of some non-Muslims?

Is violence and terrorism a disease infecting a segment of the Islamic world or all of 1.3 billions of them? Or is it part of our culture – Muslim and non-Muslim?

If violence and terrorism is a disease then experts all over the world should listen to the symptoms, examine the signs, do investigations, come to a diagnosis and have a treatment plan. In medicine, if a cause is known then prevention and treatment is easy.

The Islamic world is in turmoil. The legacy of prophet Mohamed is being challenged by Muslims and non-Muslims. The various interpretations of the Quran are tearing the religion apart. Who is going to save Islam?

Happy Id and may peace be with you, Amen.

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Religion and Medicine

“Religion is the opium of the people,” says Karl Marx (1818-1883). But Marxism is almost dead and religion has survived. Does that mean religion is healthy and well and good for the people?

Yes, says one reader of this column. She was responding to my question – should doctors prescribe religious activities for medical ailments as they prescribe antibiotics?

The lady (we will call her Mrs. A) says: I am almost sure that healthy spiritual life is directly connected to good mental health. And mental health is directly connected with physical health. It is proven that mental condition has direct influence on our immune system, hormonal balance, sleeping pattern and not to mention the impact it has on our social life. So yes, religion should be somehow involved in medical treatment.

Mrs. A says that the zealots are exploiting religion. She was brought up in a country where religion was not popular and there were many atheists. Atheism was more attractive because some religious leaders encouraged hate among people of different nationality and religion.

“That was the reason I was always happy not to be a part of it, no to be in all the mess. My opinion now is that religion/spirituality is important if it’s in the healthy dosage,” says Mrs. A.

Another interesting letter came from a lady (Mrs. B): Being a “religious” person myself, I feel that faith and medical practise go hand in hand. I have a great deal of confidence in medical science but believe ultimately that God is “the great physician”.

I think it is quite desirable for physicians to recommend that patients seek spiritual comfort from appropriate pastors and counsellors, but not that doctors have to give it – unless they know the patient well and mutually agree to discuss spiritual matters, says Mrs. B.

Mrs. B sent me an article which says that doctors are conducting major research project at the Duke University Medical Centre and the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Centre, Durham, NC to study the effects of prayer, imagery, and touch on patients who are about to undergo angioplasty, a procedure that removes blockages from coronary arteries.

The article says that the people in the Duke prayer group experience 50 to 100 percent fewer side effects from cardiac procedures than those who aren’t prayed for.

I also received a Chritian Science view from Mrs. C. She says: Christian Scientists rely exclusively on prayer for healing. A Christian Scientist may ask for help from a Christian Science practitioner, who is one who devotes his or her full time to the practice of healing prayer. Testimonials over many years appearing in the Christian Science weekly and monthly publications prove the efficacy of this healing practice. On a personal note, I had a small proof when, through prayer alone, a severely sprained ankle was healed overnight.

Mrs. C says: Christian Scientists have great respect for dedicated doctors. However, Christian Science treatment is not combined with medical practice because the two methods are inherently icompatible.

These are interesting views. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) says: there is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.

Whatever religious version we believe in, the ultimate force that creates an environment of well being is our faith. The faith may be in God, in our pastor, our doctor or any non-physician healer. If we don’t believe in something, then I doubt whether it will help us.

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!