Grief shown to take a physical toll on survivors

June 17, 2019

Susan Smith has seen how the death of a loved one can lead to illness among survivors.

“Grief is as hard on the body as stress,” said Smith, the Grief Support and Life Legacies Manager at GenCure. “I have seen it more than a few times.”

Researchers at the University of Arizona went back and looked at studies about the “broken heart” effect, and then focused on 13 studies from the last 40 years. They recently published their findings, titled “A Systematic Review of the Association Between Bereavement and Biomarkers of Immune Function,” in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine

As far back as 1977, research had measured changes in immune functions of people in grief. Later studies linked bereavement to increased levels of inflammation, and scientists already know that chronic inflammation can be part of a number of conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Researchers also found a connection between grief and depression, and how much of an impact bereavement has on immune function. They concluded that more work needed to be done, but looking back at 40-plus years at data was a good starting point for research.

“Our goal with the GenCure Grief Support and Life Legacies program is to help people with the bereavement process, to manage those feelings and not be overwhelmed by them,” Smith said.

Dr. Rachel Beddard, Chief Medical Officer at BioBridge Global, the parent company of GenCure, said the research fits into the bereavement program’s mission.

“This is a fascinating topic and especially applicable to our organization, given our bereavement program that Susan Smith heads up,” she said. “Much more research needs to be accomplished in this area, but it would be quite interesting to know if programs such as Susan’s help to moderate the bereavement process and lessen the excess mortality risk seen after the loss of a loved one.”

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