Racial stress linked to health disparities

Sept. 17, 2011 at 3:17 PM
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BALTIMORE, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Psychological stress due to racial discrimination may contribute to racial health disparities in heart disease and diabetes, U.S. researchers say.

Dr. Sarah Szanton of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and colleagues at the National Institute on Aging and the University of California, San Francisco, looked at racial discrimination and red blood cell oxidative stress among 629 participants enrolled in a study.

The researchers measured oxidative stress by determining the level of degradation products in red blood cells 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 marker.

In addition, African-Americans who reported 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.

"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," the researchers concluded.

"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."

The findings were published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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