Link between racial discrimination and stress described in new study

September 14, 2011, Springer

The consequences of psychological stress, resulting from racial discrimination, may contribute to racial health disparities in conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other age-associated diseases. This is according to analyses of data from the epidemiologic study Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS)1, conducted by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Sarah Szanton from Johns Hopkins University, who collaborated with scientists from the NIA and University of California, San Francisco, in the US, put forward a new hypothesis to elucidate racial differences in disease prevalence: African-Americans who suffer psychologically from have higher levels of oxidative stress in their bodies. Their study2 is published online in Springer's International .

The of racial discrimination is thought to be one of the factors that explain racial , for conditions such as , obesity, cardiovascular problems, poor self-reported health and premature disease-related disability. There is some evidence that psychological stress increases oxidative stress.

Szanton and NIH investigators hypothesized that if oxidative stress is causally associated with a psychological stressor such as racial discrimination, then disparities in psychological stress might help explain some of these health disparities.

To test their hypothesis, the authors looked, for the first time, at whether there was a link between reports of racial discrimination and red blood cell oxidative stress among 629 participants enrolled in HANDLS. Researchers measured oxidative stress by determining the level of degradation products in and assessed racial discrimination by asking participants how much prejudice, or discrimination, they had experienced because of their race.

Overall, African Americans reported more racial discrimination than Whites and more oxidative stress originating from their red blood cells as measured by a novel marker. In addition, African Americans who reported suffering from racial discrimination had higher levels of oxidative stress than those who had not experienced prejudice. Discrimination was not linked to levels of oxidative stress in Whites.

The authors conclude: "This is a preliminary report of an association between racial discrimination and oxidative stress. It is a first step to understanding whether there is a relationship between the two. Our findings suggest that there may be identifiable cellular pathways by which racial discrimination amplifies cardiovascular and other age-related disease risks. If increased red blood cell oxidative stress is associated with experiencing racial discrimination in African Americans, this could be one reason that many age-associated chronic disease have a higher prevalence in this group."

*Oxidative stress is the process by which free radicals, or reactive oxygen species, damage cellular components including DNA, proteins and lipids.

More information: 1. Conducted by the National Institute on Aging Intramural Research Program, HANDLS is a prospective epidemiological study of a socioeconomically diverse cohort of 3721 Whites and African Americans aged 30 to 64 years.

2. Szanton SL et al (2011). Racial discrimination is associated with a measure of red blood cell oxidative stress: a potential pathway for racial disparities. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. DOI 10.1007/s12529-011-9188-z

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study of 800 million tweets finds distinct daily cycles in our thinking patterns

June 20, 2018
Our mode of thinking changes at different times of the day and follows a 24-hour pattern, according to new findings published in PLOS ONE. University of Bristol researchers were able to study our thinking behaviour by analysing ...

Mind wandering is fine in some situations, study says

June 20, 2018
It's a common experience for most students. You're sitting in a lecture that covers material you already know, and before long your mind drifts and you become occupied with thoughts of what you'll do over the weekend, or ...

Around the world, people have surprisingly modest notions of the 'ideal' life

June 20, 2018
It seems reasonable that people would want to maximize various aspects of life if they were given the opportunity to do so, whether it's the pleasure they feel, how intelligent they are, or how much personal freedom they ...

Opioid overdose survivors face continued health challenges, higher death rate

June 20, 2018
Survivors of opioid overdose are at great risk of dying in the year after overdose, but the deaths are not always caused by drug use, a new study reveals. In addition to succumbing to drug use, survivors were much more likely ...

Say cheese! Why a toothy smile makes it easier for you to be identified

June 19, 2018
A fulsome smile in a photo makes it easier for people to identify the individual, say researchers at the University of York.

Mental health declining among disadvantaged American adults

June 19, 2018
American adults of low socioeconomic status report increasing mental distress and worsening well-being, according to a new study by Princeton University and Georgetown University.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.