Researchers say ritual for orthodox Jewish men may offer heart benefits

October 11, 2018, University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Jack Rubinstein, MD, associate professor in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, is shown demonstrating a layman's version of Tefillin. Credit: University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

A pilot study led by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine suggests Jewish men who practice wearing tefillin, which involves the tight wrapping of an arm with leather banding as part of daily prayer, may receive cardiovascular health benefits.

The researchers propose that benefits may occur though remote ischemic preconditioning that results in protection during attacks. The results are available online in the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology.

Jack Rubinstein, MD, associate professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Health and a UC Health cardiologist, says he enrolled 20 Jewish men living in Greater Cincinnati—nine who wear tefillin daily and 11 non-users of tefillin—in the study. His team of researchers recorded baseline information on all participants during the early morning and then additional data after wearing tefillin for 30 minutes.

They measured 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.

The men participating in the study were between the ages of 18 and 40 and all in good health.

"Tefillin is used for morning prayers for Jewish men over the age of 13 on an almost daily basis," says Rubinstein. "It is placed on the non-dominant arm around the bicep and the forearm in a pretty tight manner. It is never worn in a fashion as to preclude the blood flow. This is worn for about 30 minutes continuously. Prayers are sitting and standing so often you have to retighten the strap around your arm."

The usage of tefillin, also called phylacteries, dates back to scriptural commandments in the books of Deuteronomy and Exodus urging the faithful followers to comply with religious law and to "bind them as a sign upon your arm." Rubinstein says the binding of the arm and the discomfort users often report may serve as a form preconditioning and offer a substantial degree of protection against acute ischemic reperfusion injury (a section of the heart is deprived of oxygen and then damaged when re-oxygenated) that occurs as a result of a .

"One of the ways that protection occurs is through pain," says Rubinstein, also a member of the UC Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute. "Feeling pain is actually a preconditioning stimulus.

"We found people who wear tefillin in either the short or long term, recorded a measureable 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 as part of the study, explained Rubinstein. Men who wore tefillin daily also had fewer circulating cytokines—signaling molecules that can cause inflammation and negatively impact the heart—compared to non-users, suggesting that near daily use elicits an effect similar to that observed with other methods of eliciting remote ischemic preconditioning-like effect.

For years researchers have studied preconditioning by inducing small heart attacks in animal models and found that they protected the animal from larger, more serious heart attacks in the future. This same preconditioning could be used by partially occluding 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 studies out of Israel that have found 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.

Explore further: A drug long used to treat gout may help adult heart failure patients

More information: A. Phillip Owens et al. Tefillin Use Induces Remote Ischemic Preconditioning Pathways in Healthy Males, American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology (2018). DOI: 10.1152/ajpheart.00347.2018

Related Stories

A drug long used to treat gout may help adult heart failure patients

February 20, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine have shown that probenecid, a drug long used to treat gout, may be able to improve heart function in adult patients who experience heart failure.

Remote ischemic preconditioning fails to improve heart bypass outcomes

March 16, 2015
Patients who underwent a simple conditioning procedure involving the inflation and deflation of a blood pressure cuff on the upper arm before coronary artery bypass grafting, known as heart bypass surgery, had no better long-term ...

Simple blood pressure cuff inflation reduces heart injury from bypass surgery

August 15, 2013
The study, led by Professor Gerd Heusch of the Institute for Pathophysiology, and Dr Matthias Thielmann, of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, both based at the University School of Medicine Essen, Germany, ...

Study shows man-made fat may limit damage to heart attack victims

August 5, 2011
A man-made fat called Intralipid, which is currently used as a component of intravenous nutrition and to treat rare overdoses of local anesthetics, may also offer protection for patients suffering from heart attacks.

Remote ischemic preconditioning cuts kidney injury risk

June 2, 2015
(HealthDay)—Remote ischemic preconditioning can reduce the rate of acute kidney injury among high-risk patients undergoing cardiac surgery, according to a study published online May 29 in the Journal of the American Medical ...

Recommended for you

No sweat required: Team finds hypertension treatment that mimics effect of exercise

October 16, 2018
Couch potatoes rejoice—there might be a way to get the blood pressure lowering benefits of exercise in pill form.

New model suggests cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitoring possible using pulse waves

October 16, 2018
A large team of researchers from several institutions in China and the U.S. has developed a model that suggests it should be possible to create a cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitor based on measuring pulse waves. ...

Why heart contractions are weaker in those with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

October 16, 2018
When a young athlete suddenly dies of a heart attack, chances are high that they suffer from familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Itis the most common genetic heart disease in the US and affects an estimated 1 in 500 ...

Novel genetic study sheds new light on risk of heart attack

October 12, 2018
Loss of a protein that regulates mitochondrial function can greatly increase the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), Vanderbilt scientists reported Oct. 3 in the journal eLife.

Researchers say ritual for orthodox Jewish men may offer heart benefits

October 11, 2018
A pilot study led by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine suggests Jewish men who practice wearing tefillin, which involves the tight wrapping of an arm with leather banding as part of daily ...

Markers of dairy fat consumption linked to lower risk of type two diabetes

October 10, 2018
Higher levels of biomarkers of dairy fat consumption are associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to new research published today in PLOS Medicine. The study, in more than 60,000 adults, was undertaken ...

7 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anonym934567
1 / 5 (1) Oct 11, 2018
Hi, the headline is offensive to non-Orthodox Jews and non-men who also partake in this ritual. Please update for accuracy.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2018
Hey do the cilice next-

This reminds me of apologists who claim that removing the foreskin is good for us even though evolution decided it was something we needed to have.

So I say bogus.
chemhaznet1
not rated yet Oct 12, 2018
TheGhostofOtto1923 I'm doing pretty good without my foreskin and never have I had any sort of sexual issues with it. Plus I prefer the way it looks. Plus "do the cilice the"? Very funny. I guess the only people to benefit from that study would likely be fetishists by today standards, though.
eliwillner
not rated yet Oct 12, 2018
Hi, the headline is offensive to non-Orthodox Jews and non-men who also partake in this ritual. Please update for accuracy.


Yes, let's not forget that critical 0.0002%
eliwillner
not rated yet Oct 12, 2018
Hey do the cilice next-

This reminds me of apologists who claim that removing the foreskin is good for us even though evolution decided it was something we needed to have.

So I say bogus.


Right, apologists like the AMA.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2018
Right, apologists like the AMA
You dont think the AMA is politically motivated? Shame on you. Although I have to say I found this article in the AMA Journal of Ethics

"Illuminating the Art of Medicine
AUG 2017
Nontherapeutic Circumcision of Minors as an Ethically Problematic Form of Iatrogenic Injury
J. Steven Svoboda, Esq., MS, JD
"Nontherapeutic circumcision (NTC) of male infants and boys is a common but misunderstood form of iatrogenic injury that causes harm [ie mutilation] by removing functional tissue that has known erogenous, protective, and immunological properties, regardless of whether the surgery generates complications. I argue that the loss of the foreskin itself should be counted, clinically and morally, as a harm [ie mutilation] in evaluating NTC... [especially when the procedure is completed orally by the occasional rabbi PBUH with hepA, hepB, HIV, or herpes simplex et al etc]

-enlightening.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2018
TheGhostofOtto1923 I'm doing pretty good without my foreskin and never have I had any sort of sexual issues with it
-as compared to what? Were you circumcised at age 25? Anabaptist? Lawnmower accident perhaps?
Plus I prefer the way it looks
-So uh just how much time do you spend staring at your willie? That sounds a little fetishist to me.

Otto does not consider his willie to be a fashion statement.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.