Stories about the bereaved spouses who passed away days or months after the death of their better half are common. A new study explains the science behind such grief stricken deaths we often come across. According to the findings, in three months period followed by the death of their spouses, widows and widowers are more likely to exhibit risk factors linked to cardiovascular illness and premature mortality.
The latest study, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, found that in the initial months after the loss of a spouse, the widowed people show higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (immune markers that indicate inflammation in the bloodstream), as well as lower heart rate variability (HRV), compared to non-bereaved individuals from same age group, sex and body mass index. Such conditions lead to some potentially deadly diseases that affect both physical and mental health. Hence, science proved that a broken heart can be so fatal that people might succumb to its grief.
Researchers from Rice University in the US also conducted the blood tests of 99 people who had recently lost their spouses. They compared the people who showed symptoms of ‘elevated grief’ to those who did not show these behaviours and found that the ones with these symptoms suffered 17 per cent higher levels of bodily inflammation which contributes to deadly cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.
Lead researcher Chris Fagundes said, “Previous research has shown that inflammation contributes to almost every disease in older adulthood. 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.”