Study: Tefillin good for the ticker
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Study: Tefillin good for the ticker

People who wrap leather straps around their arms may be protecting themselves from the worst effects of heart attacks, a study found.

Of course, that’s not why they do it — or at least until now that hasn’t been why Jews do it. (We have no idea if anyone else does.) They do it to prepare for daily morning prayers.

A pilot study by researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that regular users of tefillin may receive cardiovascular health benefits through remote ischemic preconditioning — that is, briefly restricting blood flow and oxygen to the heart and then restoring it.

The results of the study were published last month online in the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology. The study involved 20 Jewish men from the greater Cincinnati area, including nine who wore tefillin daily and 11 who did not.

To put on tefillin, you wrap a leather strap tightly around one of your arms, depending on whether you are left- or right-handed, for about half an hour six days a week. The strap often is tight enough to leave grooves in your skin for a few minutes after it is removed.

The researchers measured participants’ vital signs, drew blood to analyze its circulating cytokines and monocyte function, and also measured blood flow in the user’s dominant arm — the one without tefillin. Blood flow was higher for men who wore tefillin daily and improved in all participants after they wore it just once, for the study.

Jack Rubinstein, a UC Health cardiologist and associate professor in its division of cardiovascular health and disease, headed the study. He said in an article posted on the university’s website that binding an arm — and the discomfort users often report when they do it — may serve as a form of preconditioning against acute ischemic reperfusion injury and offer a substantial degree of protection against it. (Acute ischemic reperfusion injury is what happens when a section of the heart is deprived of oxygen and then damaged when re-oxygenated, and can be a result of a heart attack.)

Ischemic preconditioning essentially mimics the effects of exercise by placing the heart and vessels under light stress.

“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,” Rubinstein said.

Israeli studies have shown that Orthodox men have a lower risk of dying of heart disease than non-Orthodox men do. JTA Wire Service

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