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Can You Reduce the Deadly Impact of Bereavement?

Australian scientists have found two inexpensive drugs can lower the risk of heart problems early in bereavement, although nothing eases the pain of grief.
Can You Reduce the Deadly Impact of Bereavement?
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Losing a loved one creates terrible stress on the heart. Such bereavement can understandably lead to depression, which in turn may raise the risk for cardiovascular mortality (Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, May 2011).  Is there any way to mitigate the deadly impact?

Reducing the Strain Bereavement Places on the Heart:

Two inexpensive medications may prove beneficial in this situation. The loss of a loved one can cause measurable changes in the heart (Death Studies, Sep. 19, 2019). Doctors have recognized a link between grief and inflammation, chronic pain and cardiovascular mortality. Until recently, however, they did not know what to do about it.

A study published in the American Heart Journal reports that an inexpensive beta blocker called metoprolol plus low-dose aspirin can reduce both physical and psychological measures of cardiovascular risk (American Heart Journal, Feb. 2020). In this randomized controlled trial, 85 people were recruited within two weeks of losing a spouse or a child. Half of the volunteers took 100 mg of aspirin plus 25 mg of metoprolol. The remaining half received placebos during the six weeks of the trial.

Aspirin and Metoprolol Improved Risk Factors:

The participants who took aspirin plus beta blocker had fewer spikes in blood pressure and heart rate. They also had reduced markers for blood clotting. Moreover, despite their bereavement, they experienced less anxiety and depression than those on the placebo medications. Both aspirin and metoprolol can cause side effects, but the volunteers did not report any serious reactions.

The Australian scientists were encouraged to note that the bereaved volunteers who got aspirin and metoprolol had diminished levels of anxiety and lower blood pressure even after the six-week drug trial was completed.

They concluded

“Although further research is needed, results suggest a potential preventive benefit of this approach during heightened cardiovascular risk associated with early bereavement.”

The authors call for further studies to determine if such medications might be beneficial after natural disasters or mass bereavement when people are at the mercy of huge emotional stress.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Lewis TT et al, "Depressive symptoms and cardiovascular mortality in older black and white adults: Evidence for a differential association by race." Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, May 2011. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.110.957548
  • Ennis J & Majid U, "'Death from a broken heart': A systematic review of the relationship between spousal bereavement and physical and physiological health outcomes." Death Studies, Sep. 19, 2019. DOI: 10.1080/07481187.2019.1661884
  • Tofler GH et al, "The effect of metoprolol and aspirin on cardiovascular risk in bereavement: A randomized controlled trial." American Heart Journal, Feb. 2020. DOI: 10.1016/j.ahj.2019.11.003
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