Jewish prayer item can help prevent heart attacks – study

Men – and women – who wear phylacteries, called tefillin, while praying, also have a better chance of mitigating heart injury if they do have an attack.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A University of Cincinnati (UC) study has shown that keeping to Jewish tradition at prayer can help prevent heart attacks.

Religiously observant Jewish men wear phylacteries, called tefillin, every weekday during the approximately half-hour-long morning service. One small box containing Scriptural verses is tied around the forehead with a single strap, while a similar box is put on the upper part of the non-dominant arm, with its strap wound rather tightly down the arm and hand, all the way to the middle finger.

In recent years, a small minority of Jewish women have taken this obligation upon themselves as well.

Dr. Jack Rubinstein of the Division of Cardiovascular Health at the UC College of Medicine, who conducted the study, found that the binding of the arm – and the discomfort it often causes – actsd as a preconditioning mechanism that can reduce damage done to the heart at both ends of an attack: when the blood flow, and therefore an oxygen supply, is suddenly cut off in the beginning, and when the blood flow is reestablished.

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In an interview with the Jewish outreach organization Aish regarding his initial 2018 research on the subject, Rubinstein explained that “there are certain cells in our body that circle around and are primed to attack” the body, going on the offensive aggressively during a heart attack.

“When we measured these cells in people who wear tefillin every day, they were significantly less primed to attack,” he said.

In addition, “we found that the blood flow was better,” which would help reduce the serious post-attack injury to the heart.

In that study, published in the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, Rubinstein compared nine men who wore phylacteries to 11 who didn’t.  He found that the men who wore them had the best blood flow, but that it even improved in those who just wore the tefillin once.

The current UC study consisted of 16 healthy men and 14 women between the ages of 18 and 40. The researchers measured their baseline information such as their heart rates for 10 minutes before the tefillin was donned, and then another round of data was obtained during and after 30 minutes of wearing the straps.

The results, he said, showed that if people wear phylacteries or a similar kind of device, it is “a low-intensity way of protecting people from heart attacks.”

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“This is a potential game changer for how we approach cardiovascular disease prevention,” Rubinstein said. “Decreasing the amount of heart attack damage by even just two-fold is something that will change outcomes for millions of people.”

The results of the study were published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science that covers primary research from any discipline within science and medicine.