A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and School of Medicine finds that African American youth who are routinely subjected to stress due to racism, discrimination, or life in impoverished neighborhoods produce large amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. And the study found that this increased level of cortisol production can last into adulthood regardless of stress levels encountered later in life. High levels of cortisol can lead to health problems such as fatigue, impaired memory function, and cardiovascular disease.
Shervin Assari, a research scientist in the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and the lead author of the study, said that the study follows “a unique sample of Black youth, who are transitioning to adulthood in inner cities with huge trauma and other stressors. That is, of course, a difficult and challenging transition as the environment is not friendly to many of them, and opportunities are systematically blocked for many of them. Low safety, low job opportunities and high poverty are some elements of that life.”
“Living all their lives in a very stressful environment, which is associated with higher levels of anxiety, is not very good for the brains of these Black youth, and such exposures will have long-lasting effects, which is potentially preventable,” Dr. Assari said. “Reducing level of stress and anxiety that these youth are experiencing should be a main strategy for early prevention of more severe mental and physical health problems.”
The study, “Anxiety Symptoms During Adolescence Predicts Salivary Cortisol in Early Adulthood Among Blacks; Sex Differences,” appeared in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. It may be accessed here.