Grief’s Double Whammy

A girl sits on the floor with her head in her hands

Grief can cause inflammation that can kill, according to new research from the Rice lab of psychologist Chris Fagundes. Researchers conducted interviews and examined the blood of people whose spouses had recently died. They compared people who showed symptoms of elevated grief — such as pining for the deceased, difficulty moving on, a sense that life is meaningless — to those who did not exhibit those behaviors. The researchers discovered that widows and widowers with elevated grief symptoms suffered up to 17 percent higher levels of bodily inflammation.

“Previous research has shown that inflammation contributes to almost every disease in older adulthood,” Fagundes said. “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. 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.”

— Amy McCaig