How Stress Could Affect Your Genes
Discrimination is a form of stress—and it may lead to gene expression that puts you at higher risk of disease, explains April D. Thames, Ph.D., director of the Social Neuroscience in Health Psychology Lab at the University of Southern California.
April Thames, PhD: We already knew that factors such as poverty and loneliness and social isolation, that those had profound impacts on health.
When one encounters a stressful experience and that stress is chronic, these genes that are responsible for innate immunity
they are turned on and off.
So for this study, we recruited both black and white participants and we asked them about a number of stressful experiences.
We drew blood on these participants and then from whole blood, RNA was extracted.
And from that we looked at these transcriptional factors within RNA in order to look at how these different
genes are expressed.
And we found that blacks have demonstrated a higher expression of genes that promote an inflammatory response and a decrease
in genes that would normally promote an antiviral response.
When trying to account for the difference in this gene expression pattern between
these two groups, perceived discrimination — it accounted for more than 50% of the genes that are involved in promoting inflammation as well as the stress-signaling genes
We think that this provides a mechanism to explain the numerous other studies that have already shown links between discrimination and
I hope that people will integrate the concept that racism affects health into health care. So i think physicians need to be aware that one’s experiences have this a biological effect.
I think discussing one’s experiences with racism and how it’s affecting them…it could potentially improve health outcomes to to be able to alleviate the stress from it.
So what i would hope is that just like smoking or anything that we consider to be a major public health issue, I hope that
racism would be considered as well.