Can grief really kill you?

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Intense grief caused by losing someone close to you can lead to inflammation and increase your chances of dying, revealed a study carried out by researchers from Rice University in the United States. 

What impact does bereavement have on human health? A recent study has suggested that people who have just lost someone dear to them are more susceptible to displaying greater risk factors of cardiovascular illnesses.  This new research concentrates on inflammation in the body which is an underlying factor.  Details of the study were published in ScienceDirect.

Previous research has shown that inflammation contributes to almost every disease in older adulthood,” explained Chris Fagundes from Rice University, in Huston Texas.  He continued by saying, “We also know that depression is linked to higher levels of inflammation, and those who lose a spouse are at considerably higher risk of major depression, heart attack, stroke and premature mortality.”

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Bereavement has a noticeable effect on our health

In order to carry out this study, Chris Fagundes and his team interviewed 99 people who had just lost their partner less than three months previously.  These individual interviews then allowed researchers to class the participants into levels of bereavement.  Some were still very upset and found it difficult to accept the situation and move on, whereas others didn’t show this kind of behaviour. Blood samples were also taken with the aim of determining if the elevated levels of depressive symptoms corresponded to the different levels of inflammation in the body.

Unsurprisingly, it appeared that the most affected people presented higher rates (up to 17%) of various pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines (IFN-γ, IL-6 et TNF-α). Those in the upper third of this group had an inflammation level 53.4% higher than the lower third of the group with these symptoms.

Targeting the risk factors for the most vulnerable

However, this is the first study to confirm that grief — regardless of people’s levels of depressive symptoms — can promote inflammation, which in turn can cause negative health outcomes,”  researchers stated. By knowing who is a risk and that inflammation is a major contributing factor researchers were confident that, “we can design interventions to target this risk factor in those who are most at risk through behavioral or pharmacological approaches.”

It is clear that losing someone close to us can not only have an effect on our emotional distress but, as this study proves, our physical health is also affected.  This could lead to multiple health conditions which could result in premature mortality.  If you are suffering from a loss, make sure you speak to a friend, family member or doctor so that you can get the support you need.


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