Monday, December 26, 2011

Going to church is good for you: Services lower blood pressure, research finds

This is in line with other reports of longer and healthier lives among the religiously committed, Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons particularly

Going to church at Christmas may have been good for the soul, but scientists have discovered that it may also be good for the body. Researchers found that attending services lowers blood pressure – and the more often you go the lower it becomes.

Previous studies in the U.S. suggested the link, but as 40 per cent of Americans regularly go to church its health benefits were treated as a coincidence. So the Norwegian researchers, who had just four per cent of churchgoers among their 120,000 participants, were surprised to see they too had lower blood pressure.

Torgeir Sorensen, from the School of Theology and Religious Psychology Centre at Sykehuset Innlandet said: ‘We found that the more often the participants went to church the lower their blood pressure.

‘Previous research from the United States has shown that there is a possible link between people who attend church and blood pressure. ‘About 40 per cent of the U.S. population goes to church on a weekly basis, while the corresponding figure in Nord-Trondelag County, where the research was carried out, is 4 per cent. 'For that reason, we did not expect to find any correlation between going to church and blood pressure in Nord-Trondelag.

'Our findings, however, are almost identical to those previously reported from the United States, so we were really surprised.’

The early results mean that it will now be studied further to determine the extent that religious beliefs can affect general health, and if other religions have the same effect.

Mr Sorensen added: 'The study of the relationship between religion and health has rarely focused on other religions, such as Judaism and Islam. 'It is therefore difficult to say anything about whether or not this same association can be found in these communities.’

Professor Jostein Holmen from the Faculty of Medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and one of the authors of the study, said: ‘The research into lifestyle and health issues mainly comes from the United States, while information from Europe is very limited.

‘Earlier studies have shown a positive correlation between humour and good health, and participation in different cultural activities and good health. ‘It would appear that the data we have been recording about religious beliefs is actually relevant to your health. 'The fact that churchgoers have lower blood pressure encourages us to continue to study this issue. 'We’re just in the start-up phase of an exciting research area.’

However, the type of study which was carried out means that some other explanations may emerge from further research.

He said: ‘Since this is a cross-sectional study, it is not possible to say whether it was a health condition that affected the participants’ religious activity, or whether it was the religious activity that affected the state of participants’ health.

‘A cross-sectional study says something about a group of people at a given time, but can say nothing about causation. 'In order to determine what causes the effect, we need new studies that look at the same people at different times.’

The research was published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine.


Overconfident doctors visit mayhem on innocent parents

Taking your child to hospital can leave you open to being accused of causing their injuries

Parents nowadays are inundated with so much well-meaning advice from so many sources, it seems almost impertinent to proffer any more. But they do need to be aware of how to combat the hazards, when taking their children to hospital, of being accused of having caused their injuries.

Six years ago in this column, I described the case of a young couple, Mary and Andrew, who took their four-week-old son, Josh, to hospital after noting while changing his nappy that there was something “funny” about the upper part of his leg. This was duly X-rayed, revealing not just a fractured femur but several more around the growing ends of his bones, or metaphyseal fractures.

The police were summoned and the couple taken to the local station, where they were locked in separate cells and charged with assault and grievous bodily harm. Their son’s injuries, they learnt, were apparently “characteristic” of being deliberately inflicted by violent shaking and wrenching and twisting of the limbs.

Josh, however, was clearly not a battered baby in any commonsensical understanding of the term, being well cared for by affectionate parents and without the slightest hint of the sort of circumstantial evidence – bruising, pain and swelling of the limbs – that might reasonably be expected were these fractures caused by excess physical force.

The pattern of injuries is much more suggestive of some unknown, undiagnosed or overlooked disturbance of bone development in the early weeks of life. But the parents’ protestations of innocence naught availeth against the medical experts and, as with so many others similarly accused, they were convicted and their son taken into foster care.

And so it has gone on, causing more grief and suffering than can be imagined to all concerned – until a landmark trial at the Old Bailey earlier this month involving another young couple, Rohan Wray and Chana Al-Alas, who were accused of murdering their four-month-old son Jayden. Concerned he was not well, they had initially taken him to casualty at London’s University College Hospital where they were told he had flu, then to their GP three days later, who could find nothing seriously amiss but advised they take him back to hospital – which they duly did.

Soon after, he had a prolonged seizure before lapsing into a coma. Further investigations revealed a fracture of the skull, a number of several metaphyseal fractures, and swelling and bleeding on the surface of the brain. His condition deteriorated further and he was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where he died two days later.

The parents were duly charged with having deliberately caused these fatal injuries in the short period between taking him to their GP and then on to hospital for the second time. The implausibility of this scenario, and the suspicion that there might be something else to account for his injuries, was heightened with the surprise finding of the autopsy that he had rickets, the widespread softening of the bones due to vitamin D deficiency.

The trial opened at the beginning of October and ran for six weeks, with 60 medical and professional witnesses giving evidence. The jury heard of the good moral standing of the couple, the lack of circumstantial evidence of neglect, how lack of oxygen during his seizure could have damaged the brain – and, most significantly, how recent research in the United States has confirmed that vitamin D deficiency can indeed result in those “characteristically abusive” metaphyseal fractures.

The case collapsed and, with the charges withdrawn, the couple walked free. No medical experts are going to admit they might have been wrong, for to do so would be to concede that they had been instrumental in so many other miscarriages of justice in the past. But it would be good to think that the outcome at the Old Bailey might finally signal the end of these wrongful accusations – a cheery note on which to close the year.


Fuller coverage of the Wray case here.

An earlier similar case here.

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