Prayer and Faith – Age Old Allies in the Fight Against Cancer

April 9th, 2014 by Dr. Keith Nemec

A boys prayerCancer can be a devastating disease, and the road to recovery and restored health can be long and fraught with pitfalls. For hundreds of years, people have turned to prayer and faith to help them through the dark times of their illness and the despair that often accompanies it. Modern conventional medicine has had an equally long history of relegating faith and spirituality to the very outskirts of their cancer treatments. Considering it little more than an opiate that does little to actually help their patients fight the disease or recover their health. But faith and spirituality are large parts of the recovery process, and recent research suggests that prayer has a quantifiable positive effect, not just on the mental and emotional status of cancer patients, but on their physical well-being as well.

Prayer and Mental Health

Researchers, in both the conventional and alternative medical fields, have come to understand that stress and anxiety are significant enemies in the quest for total health. They rob the body of the energy needed to fight the disease itself, and weaken the immune system leaving the patient susceptible to secondary illnesses and treatment complications. This is particularly true for those that are recovering from more serious illnesses like cancer, or who are struggling with the effects of a chronic disorder like Multiple Sclerosis. Where conventional medicine and alternative medicine diverge, however, is in the way that they treat that stress and anxiety. Conventional medicine turns immediately to chemicals, prescription drugs designed to alter the patient’s mood by masking their anxiety. Alternative medicine, however, understands that faith and spirituality can have a much greater impact on the mental well-being of a patient fighting and recovering from cancer. Through faith, patients can find the inner peace that restores the body’s natural energies and reduces the mental and physical stress on the immune system.

Faith and the Immune System

Recent research into the power of faith and prayer in healing has turned up some interesting results. These studies are showing that prayer, both alone and with a formal or informal group, has the power to increase the efficiency of immune system health. The latest research is showing that prayer instigates certain chemical reactions in the central nervous system, prompting the immune system into a more definite action against disease. For example, astrocytes are a specific type of brain cell that produces interleukin-1, a cytokine that effects and regulates the immune system. Studies into the effects of faith and spirituality on patients battling cancer and other diseases seem to indicate that prayer activates these astrocytes, prompting them to produce the interleukin-1 that the immune system needs to go into action. Moreover, lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell the body uses to fight infection and recover from illness) are activated by these same chemical reactions, which are produced in the central nervous system as the result of prayer. Clearly the power of prayer over cancer and other illnesses is more than merely anecdotal, and new research is leading the way toward showing a scientifically quantifiable cause and effect.

Faith, Prayer and Total Health

Clearly, faith plays a large part in the prevention and treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses. Research continues into the roles that prayer and spirituality have to play in maintaining our total health. That being said, recent studies have already proven that faith and pray help to decrease the stress induced chemical reactions that can lead to illness and inhibit recovery, thereby lowering the risk for serious illness and relapses during treatment. Prayer also helps the immune system to function efficiently, prompting it into action when the body is beleaguered by disease or infection, and in so doing helping to ward off secondary infections and illnesses and helping the body to heal itself.

While it is important to understand the power of faith and prayer in the healing process, it is equally important to understand that they cannot do all of the work. We must also take control of our lives, and choose healthy lifestyles that promote good health and longevity. A holistic approach to life is the best medicine. When we live well, and eat well, and put our faith in God…then we will truly experience total health. You must always remember that you are a spiritual being that temporarily inhabits a body not a human being that has a spirit. What you do spiritually affects your mind, will, emotions and physical body. By stilling your mind and listening to the voice of Truth that God is speaking to your heart, you are building a foundation of total health of body, mind and spirit.

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