Discrimination Is Bad For The Body

First Posted: Sep 10, 2015 10:44 PM EDT

It's probably in our best interest not to discriminate against others. Why? Because it can hold lasting negative effects on our bodies, according to recent findings published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology

A team of researchers at Northwestern University discovered that feelings of discrimination can increase the stress hormone cortisol, upping the risk of weight gain as well as other stressors that can exacerbate the risk of numerous health conditions.

For their research, the study authors analyzed data from over a 20-year period. They measured discrimination from ages 12 to 32, prospectively, and also assessed adult cortisol levels throughout a seven-day period. Furthermore, their analysis revealed that the more discrimination people experienced throughout adolescence and early adulthood, the more dysfunctional their cortisol rhythms seemed to be by age 32.

"We found cumulative experiences matter and that discrimination mattered more for blacks," Emma Adam, lead author of the study, said in a statement. "We saw a flattening of cortisol levels for both blacks and whites, but blacks also had an overall drop in levels. The surprise was that this was particularly true for discrimination that happened during adolescence."

"There's a fair amount of research on how discrimination affects people in the moment. But we haven't been sufficiently considering the wear and tear and accumulation of discrimination over lifetimes. Our study offers the first empirical demonstration that everyday discrimination affects biology in ways that have small but cumulative negative effects over time," Adam said. "Even after controlling for income, education, depression, times of waking and other health behaviors, they still couldn't explain or remove the effects of discrimination, "making it unlikely that those other factors play a role."

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