Religion may help lower blood pressure in African-Americans

July 23, 2001

African-Americans who incorporate prayer, religion and God into their lives have lower blood pressure than found in less religious African-Americans, according to a new study.

Among African-Americans, those reporting higher levels of religious belief had lower blood pressure in the clinic setting, during workday activities and during sleep. This finding held true even when controlling for variables such as age and body mass index - two risk factors for high blood pressure.

"Our research suggest that religious coping may help buffer cardiovascular disease in African-Americans," says lead author Patrick R. Steffen, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center.

The study is published in the August issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Steffen and his colleagues measured blood pressure of 155 people in a clinic and during typical workday activities and sleep, using an automated blood pressure monitor. They also measured "religious coping" by asking the subjects to rate the extent to which they put trust in God, seek God's help, try to find comfort in religion and "pray more than usual."

All of the study participants were 25 to 45 years old and employed. Seventy-eight were African-American and 77 were white. None of the participants used tobacco products, took cardiovascular medications or had blood pressure greater than 180/100 (High blood pressure is a consistent reading of 140/90).

In contrast to their findings in African-Americans, the researchers found that religious coping was not significantly related to blood pressure in whites. Whites reported engaging in less religious coping than did African-Americans. In other words, African-Americans were much more likely than whites to turn to prayer, religion and God to cope with daily life.

Approximately 50 million people in the United States have high blood pressure, a condition that greatly increases risk for heart disease, kidney failure and stroke. African-Americans are more likely than whites to have hypertension, to develop hypertension at an earlier age and to have hypertension-related diseases.

"This finding may have important implications, given the high prevalence of hypertension and hypertension-related diseases in that population," the researchers say.

The authors note this is the first known study to examine the relationship between religious coping and blood pressure using ambulatory blood pressure monitoring techniques. This type of monitoring, which allows blood pressure to be measured during daily activities and sleep, has been shown to be a stronger predictor of heart disease problems and death than standard clinic blood pressure assessments, they say.

Studies conducted solely within clinic settings have also found that religious coping activities, such as prayer, scripture study and seeking religious help and comfort, are associated with lower blood pressure. However, critiques of this type of research have charged that many studies have shown inconsistent effects between religion and blood pressure, and that many studies are undermined by methodological problems.
The research was supported by a grant from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health.

Psychosomatic Medicine is the official bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychosomatic Society. For information about the journal, contact Joel E. Dimsdale, MD, at 619-543-5468. For copies of the article, contact the Center for the Advancement of Health at 202-387-2829 or e-mail

Patrick Steffen

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, For information about the Center, call Ira Allen, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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