Medicine and faith have been linked in records of man’s efforts to heal others since the earliest annals of hospitals dated 400 B.C. The first documented facilities dedicated to healing physical ailments were the ancient temples of Egypt, Greece, and India, which were followed by hospital systems established throughout the Persian Empire. Patients came to these “places of hospitality” seeking spiritual healing and the latest medical procedures. Faith and medicine were inseparable.
Many centuries later, patients still are seeking cures and compassion. Research confirms that the majority of patients use religion to help them cope with medical illness.
A study by Duke University Medical Center revealed that “nearly 90 percent [of patients] reported using religion to some degree to cope, and more than 40 percent indicated that it was the most important factor that kept them going.”4 Results of two national surveys published in 2010 show that “82 percent of respondents said they depend on God for help and guidance in making decisions.”5
In addition to studies that reveal the role of faith as an emotional support resource, research also suggests that faith may actually have an impact on physical wellness. A summary of several such studies published in the Southern Medical Journal in 2004 states that: “religious beliefs and activities have been associated with better immune function…; lower death rates from cancer…; less heart disease or better cardiac outcomes…; lower blood pressure…; lower cholesterol…; and better health behaviors (less cigarette smoking;… more exercise;…and better sleep).”4 In addition, the article reports that studies of mortality found that religious persons live significantly longer, citing that “the effect for regular religious attendance on longevity approximates that of not smoking cigarettes (especially in women), adding an additional seven years to the lifespan (14 years for blacks).