This daily Jewish ritual may prevent heart attacks

Wearing tefillin improves your heart function and may even save your life, a new study shows. 

By World Israel News Staff and University of Cincinnati 

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine suggests Jewish men who put on tefillin every morning may receive cardiovascular health benefits, UC stated Thursday.

The ritual, which involves the tight wrapping of an arm with leather banding as part of daily prayer, may generate remote ischemic preconditioning (RIC) that results in protection during heart attacks. RIC is an experimental method of protecting the heart and other organs by temporarily restricting blood flow, triggering the body’s natural protective mechanisms against tissue damage caused by low oxygen levels.

Jack Rubinstein, MD, associate professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Health and Disease and a UC Health cardiologist, says he studied 20 Jewish men living in Greater Cincinnati, nine who wear tefillin daily and 11 who don’t, all aged 18 to 40 and all in good health.

His researchers recorded the participants’ vital signs, drew blood for analysis of circulating cytokines and monocyte function and also measured blood flow in the arm not wrapped with tefillin during the early morning, and then after wearing tefillin for 30 minutes.

“We found people who wear tefillin in either the short or long term, recorded a measurable positive effect on their blood flow. That has been associated with better outcomes in heart disease,” says Rubinstein.

Blood flow was higher for men who wore tefillin daily and improved in all participants after wearing it just once, explained Rubinstein.

Men who wore tefillin daily also had fewer circulating cytokines, signaling molecules that can cause inflammation and negatively impact the heart, than non-users, indicating that daily use elicits an effect similar to that observed with other methods of eliciting remote ischemic preconditioning-like effect.

Researchers have studied preconditioning by inducing small heart attacks in animals and found that they protected the animal from larger, more serious heart attacks in the future. This same preconditioning could be used by partially blocking blood flow in one part of the body and thus serving as a protective element in another part of the body to lessen the injury, says Rubinstein.

“The problem with translating this to people is we don’t know when someone will have the heart attack,” says Rubinstein. “It is almost impossible to precondition someone unless they are willing to do something daily to themselves. Tefillin use may in fact offer protection as it’s worn on an almost daily basis.”

Rubinstein says there are also studies that have found Jewish Orthodox men have a lower risk of dying of heart disease compared to non-Orthodox men. This protection is not found in Orthodox women who usually don’t wear tefillin.