Prayer Gives Hope - but Science Saved Muamba

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Byline: DR ELLIE CANNON

As a Christian, it's not surprising that Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba wanted first and foremost to thank God for saving his life after he suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch last month.

His girlfriend Shauna is reported to believe it was the power of prayer that helped him pull through against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Twitter has been awash with criticism: divine power had no role to play in his survival, many have said. It is the medics' tenacity and the wonders of modern science that should be praised.

And I agree it was technically the unprecedented 78 minutes of resuscitation that brought the footballer back rather than the power of the fans' prayers.

But even as a true believer in science, I have seen the positive power of individual prayers on a range of medical conditions. I rationalise this as the power of mind over matter rather than that of a higher spiritual being.

Patients often tell me prayer gives them hope, allows them time to relax, dissipates their anxieties and builds a positive mental attitude. Research shows prayer used in this way may have a physiological impact in the same way meditation does.

It lowers blood pressure and changes hormone levels such as serotonin, reducing the body's stress response and boosting the immune system.

This can reduce anxiety and increase tolerance to pain. For some, this would even lessen the duration of an illness.

Praying for yourself would have a role in the same way meditation, counselling or group therapy does - one deals with the psychological aspects of the condition which in turn reduces physiological symptoms. I don't believe this would cure cancer, but it could ameliorate a patient's perceived experience of the disease.

Indeed, Conservative MP Gary Streeter said recently he believes the power of prayer cured him of chronic hand pain, and can help relieve back pain and depression - although this was treated with scepticism by critics. …