How Does Grief Affect Your Immune System?

How Does Grief Affect Your Immune System?

A new review digs into existing research on the connection between grief and the immune system.

Losing a loved one is one of the most stressful life experiences a person will endure, and its toll can be physical as well as emotional. Science has shown, for example, that widows and widowers have a 41 percent higher risk of early death, compared to their still-married peers.

The relationship between grief and the immune system may explain bereavement’s association with increased risk for disease and early mortality, at least in part. Since researchers began studying it in 1977, evidence has shown that people may experience negative changes in their immune function following the loss of a loved one.

In a new research review article in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, Lindsey Knowles, a psychology doctoral student at University of Arizona, and associate professors of psychology Mary-Frances O’Connor and John Ruiz examined 41 years of existing research on bereavement and the immune system. They focused specifically on 13 studies deemed to be of high scientific quality.

Here, Knowles and O’Connor discuss their findings and possible directions for future research.

Q


 Get The Latest From InnerSelf


What are the main takeaways of your paper?

A

Knowles: The highest quality studies suggest that bereaved people demonstrate higher levels of systemic inflammation, maladaptive immune cell gene expression, and lower antibody response to vaccination compared to their non-bereaved peers. Additionally, psychological responses to bereavement, such as depression and grief, appear to influence the association between bereavement and immune function, and we need more research in this area.

Q

Why did you want to write this review article?

A

Knowles: I was inspired to write this review because there is strong evidence that spousal bereavement increases morbidity and risk for early mortality in widows and widowers; however, we have yet to discover how the stress of bereavement impacts health.

In 1977, the field began examining immune dysregulation as one possible mechanism by which spousal bereavement could adversely affect health. Thirty-six years later, when I began graduate school in 2013, we were still examining this relationship, yet there were no systematic reviews or meta-analyses to summarize the field’s findings and provide direction for future research.

My goal was to create the review I was looking for in 2013—one that reviews all published data on the association between bereavement and immune function—to establish a knowledge base and suggest specific directions for future research.

Q

What does this paper contribute to the existing literature?

A

O’Connor: Researchers and clinicians sometimes think they’ve “discovered” the idea that bereavement and the immune system are connected, and don’t realize that there are approximately 40 years of research that have looked at this relationship, on and off, over the decades. This systematic review gives researchers a resource to read all that research in one place, with a modern perspective on how the field has changed and a visual model to help move the field forward in a more organized way.

Q

Why is this an important area of research, and what are the next steps?

A

O’Connor: This research is important because if the immune system is a mechanism for poor health outcomes after bereavement, someday clinicians may be able to track changes in patients’ immunity, and prevent medical complications after this difficult experience.

Future research must evaluate how the immune system adapts over time to bereavement, for us to really understand the mechanisms linking this stressful life event to medical outcomes.

Source: University of Arizona

Related Books

{amazonWS:searchindex=Books;keywords=dealing with grief;maxresults=3}

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfifrdehiiditjakomsnofaptruessvtrvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

FROM THE EDITORS

The Day Of Reckoning Has Come For The GOP
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
The Republican party is no longer a pro-America political party. It is an illegitimate pseudo-political party full of radicals and reactionaries whose stated goal is to disrupt, destabilize, and…
Why Donald Trump Could Be History's Biggest Loser
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Updated July 2, 20020 - This whole coronavirus pandemic is costing a fortune, maybe 2 or 3 or 4 fortunes, all of unknown size. Oh yeah, and, hundreds of thousands, maybe a million, of people will die…
Blue-Eyes vs Brown Eyes: How Racism is Taught
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
In this 1992 Oprah Show episode, award-winning anti-racism activist and educator Jane Elliott taught the audience a tough lesson about racism by demonstrating just how easy it is to learn prejudice.
A Change Is Gonna Come...
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
(May 30, 2020) As I watch the news on the events in Philadephia and other cities in the country, my heart aches for what is transpiring. I know that this is part of the greater change that is taking…
A Song Can Uplift the Heart and Soul
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
I have several ways that I use to clear the darkness from my mind when I find it has crept in. One is gardening, or spending time in nature. The other is silence. Another way is reading. And one that…