Need Help Fighting Cancer? You Might Want to Ask God about That

August 30th, 2015 by Holly Cornish

Do you ever pray?

If you don’t, or if you only give lip service to the spiritual side of life, you’re missing out on an important tool that can help you fight cancer and other diseases.

Despite the long history of evidence that strong spiritual beliefs can result in better health, modern medical researchers are only beginning to understand how spirituality and activities like prayer can help you cope with a deadly disease like cancer. Here’s just a sample of what they’ve discovered. . .

Continued below…

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Researchers are finding that feeling spiritually connected to the world around you gives you a better chance of surviving cancer.

And when they look inside the body, they discover that spiritual activities lead to positive, healthy physical changes that they’re able to measure.

A Sense of Connection and Purpose

These researchers tend to emphasize an important point: The spiritual power that can help you deal with cancer doesn’t depend on how often you go to church or attend religious services.

They point out that you won’t benefit much in either body or spirit if your idea of spirituality is merely plunking yourself down in a church pew and daydreaming while you pay little attention to the ceremony going on around you.

Instead, whether you attend religious services or not, the health benefits begin when you embrace the idea that a power operates in the universe that is more potent than any individual. This underlying concept of a universal force corresponds to what many religions recognize as God.

Along with acknowledging that supreme power, you will have a better chance of surviving cancer if you intuitively recognize the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Then, growing from that foundational belief, your spirituality can be enhanced by a consciousness that you have an overarching purpose in life, buttressed by the idea that your day-to-day experiences represent a journey toward greater spiritual awareness and development of your personal values.1

It’s healthy to believe that the events of each day, good and bad, are not random and meaningless. You’re on a spiritual journey, and each day you make progress.

Prayer Supports and Soothes

If you want to get in touch with your spiritual side, prayer offers an important avenue for access to spirituality and its healing potential.

Research into the effects of prayer shows that it has a profound influence on physiological factors that determine your health. A study2 at the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine analyzed how prayer — and other meditative activities like yoga and meditative deep breathing — elicits what is called the “relaxation response.”

But that doesn’t mean that prayer merely helps you relax. Prayer’s so-called “relaxation response” goes way beyond that. It changes the way your genes behave. The results can be measured: It lowers inflammation by improving immune function, helps mitochondria produce energy in the cells more effectively and beneficially alters the ways in which insulin is secreted.

Importantly, this research indicates that prayer’s action in the mitochondria increases the supply and activity of ATP synthase, an enzyme that these little organelles use to provide energy for the body. Mitochondria are the cell’s “batteries” or “power plants.”

The researchers believe that prayer and meditation’s “upregulation” of mitochondria reduces the oxidative damage that occurs when these tiny power plants churn out metabolic fuel. Prayer literally slows the aging of our cells.

The scientists write that this process enhances the body’s “mitochondrial reserve.” This means the mitochondria can help prevent cell damage when the cells ramp up their need for more energy.

It’s like what happens when you floor the gas pedal in your car. If your car isn’t working quite right, the engine may hesitate and knock when you try to accelerate.

Similarly, if the mitochondria aren’t up to snuff, they can falter when the cells call for increased energy production. Activities like meditative prayer can give the mitochondria extra octane, say the researchers, “to buffer against oxidative stress.”

Without that extra octane, the scientists warn, mitochondria lack resiliency and cells become more vulnerable to being harmed by free radicals that eventually cause illness.

This mitochondrial effect may be particularly important if you have cancer – as I’ve discussed before, there’s good evidence that cancer can arise and spread because of malfunctioning mitochondria. (See newsletters #415 and #416.)3

Of course, many patients and doctors don’t need lab tests to help them understand that prayer helps the body and mind. About half of all Americans pray every day.4 And surveys show that two-thirds of doctors report they pray for their patients.5

Cancer Benefits

A big recent review study looked at how prayer and spirituality affect people with cancer. The results add to the scientific support establishing the positive effects found in the Massachusetts General Hospital research.

This study, coordinated by researchers at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, looked at the health of about 32,000 cancer patients. It showed that no matter what your age or ethnic group, having a strong spiritual foundation to your beliefs helps you survive cancer in better physical and emotional condition than someone who does not have active faith in a higher power.

“These relationships (religiousness and spirituality) were particularly strong in patients who experienced greater emotional aspects of religion and spirituality, including a sense of meaning and purpose in life as well as a connection to a source larger than oneself,” says researcher Heather Jim, who is a Ph.D. and an assistant professor at Moffitt.

Dr. Jim also notes that when you are able to incorporate your experience with cancer within your spiritual belief system, your physical health improves. In other words, those people who see their cancer as a challenging part of their life’s journey are more likely to survive a bout of cancer while suffering less pain and fewer problematic symptoms.6

A Good Attitude

Along with improved physical health, the research shows that, in the face of cancer, the spiritually connected also enjoy better mental health and social health (the ability to maintain their relationships and place in society).7

“Spiritual well-being was, unsurprisingly, associated with less anxiety, depression, or distress,” says Dr. John Salsman, one of the researchers, who is at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

When it comes to retaining your inter-personal relationships and interactions with people in your community, the researchers also found that cancer patients who believed in a sympathetic God enjoyed the best social success.

“When we took a closer look, we found that patients with stronger spiritual well-being, more benign images of God (such as perceptions of a benevolent rather than an angry or distant God), or stronger beliefs (such as convictions that a personal God can be called upon for assistance) reported better social health,” says Dr. Allen Sherman, who is with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. “In contrast, those who struggled with their faith fared more poorly.”

Of course, no matter how strong your faith, dealing with cancer is still a struggle. But if you can tap into the power of inner spirituality, you improve your chances of prevailing in that struggle.

Our last issue was about a common garden plant that may turn out not only to be a potent cancer cell killer, but one that finds acceptance by mainstream medicine. If you missed, read it now just below.”

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