It’s no secret that stress contributes to a cornucopia of health problems, from hypertension to heart disease. But new research shows 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.

Researchers 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 Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS), conducted by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institutes of Health, according to a press release.

.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 European Americans and more oxidative stress originating from their red blood cells as measured by a novel marker, the press release noted. 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 European Americans.

“This is a preliminary report of an association between racial discrimination and oxidative stress,” the authors said. “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.

The research was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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