Can spirituality have a positive effect on someone's physical health? This question is debated in several articles published in a supplement of the latest Medical Journal of Australia.
Spirituality and Health reviews the current research on religion and spirituality in health, its relevance to Australian practitioners and patients, how it can be applied to clinical practice, and the current gaps where more research is needed.
In his introduction to the supplement, Professor Harold G. Koenig of Duke University Medical Centre in the USA, says there is reason to believe spirituality can impact on a person's health.
"Studies demonstrating health benefits of religion are many, and growing in number. Spiritual needs arising from religious beliefs should be identified and addressed as part of whole- person health care."
Prof Koenig suggests that hope and life meaning in the face of stress and loss, a supportive social network, and a healthier lifestyle are just some of the influences arising from religious belief.
"All of these factors influence health in ways that are increasingly being understood through the field of psychosomatic medicine."
Prof Koenig also says the use of the word 'spirituality' rather than 'religion' is important in clinical practice.
"Research shows that, while many patients do not distinguish between being religious or spiritual, others feel alienated from institutional religion."