The power of prayer is widely believed in the United States particularly when it comes to sickness.
But to date no studies have come up with any concrete proof that prayer offers a benefit when it comes to recovering from an illness.
Previous studies have never actually addressed whether it is the prayer itself or knowledge that prayers are being offered which may influence the outcome.
Researchers say a study of more than 1,800 patients at six U.S. hospitals who underwent heart bypass surgery has failed to show that prayers specially organized for their recovery had any impact.
The patients were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: 604 received intercessory prayer after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; 597 did not receive intercessory prayer also after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; and 601 received intercessory prayer after being informed they would receive prayer.
Intercessory prayer was provided for 14 days, starting the night before surgery and the primary outcome was the presence of any complication within 30 days of the operation.
Secondary outcomes were any major event and mortality.
Three Christian groups, two Catholic and one Protestant did the praying and were given written prayers and the first name and initial of the last name of the prayer subjects.
The prayers began on the eve of the day of surgery and lasted for two weeks.
Of the first group who were prayed for but only told they might be, 52 percent had post-surgical complications compared to 51 percent in the second group, who were not prayed for though told they might be.
In the third group, who knew they were being prayed for, 59 percent had complications.
So it appears that some of the patients who knew they were being prayed for did worse than others who were only told they might be prayed for and the researchers cannot explain why.
Within 30 days, however, the death rates and incidence of major complications was about the same across all three groups, and the researchers concluded that intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from by-pass surgery, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.
According to one of the authors, Reverend Dean Marek, the study was designed to try to measure the impact of intercessory prayer on heart surgery patients, and was never intended to address the existence of God or the presence or absence of intelligent design in the universe, or to compare the efficacy of one prayer form over another.
Marek says the patients in the study all had similar religious profiles and most believed in spiritual healing and also thought that friends or relatives would be praying for them as well.
The authors concede that the study was possibly limited because those doing the special praying had no connection or acquaintance with the subjects of their prayer.
The study is published in the American Heart Journal.