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Physiological Significance of Discrimination on Stress Markers, Obesity, and LDL Oxidation among a European American and African American Cohort of Females



Factors underlying physiological reactions from perceived discrimination and its relation to adverse health outcomes are not completely understood. The main purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that experiences of discrimination (recent and lifetime) correlate with biomarkers of stress, oxidative stress, and obesity among adult females.


Data on 62 females who self-identify as African American (AA; n = 31) or European American (EA; n = 31) aged 21–45 years were included. Discrimination experiences (recent and lifetime) were evaluated based on a validated instrument. Stress was assessed based on hair cortisol (HC) and salivary cortisol (SC), hsC-reactive protein (hsCRP), cardiovascular markers, and LDL-cholesterol oxidation. Obesity was measured based on BMI, waist circumference, and body fat percent. Multiple linear regression analyses were performed to evaluate the influence of experiences of discrimination.


Significant differences in experiences of discrimination were observed by race (p < 0.05) and were higher in AA females. Results for the multiple regression models assessing the contribution of discrimination indicate that hsCRP and pulse were significantly associated with recent experiences of discrimination, and SC, HC, hsCRP, diastolic blood pressure (DBP), and pulse were significantly associated with lifetime experiences of discrimination when adjusted for BMI and race (p < 0.05). Finally, oxidation of LDL-cholesterol was significantly associated with salivary cortisol (p = 0.0420) when adjusted by lifetime experiences of discrimination (p = 0.0366) but not for BMI (p = 0.6252).


In this cross-sectional study, AA females experienced more discrimination compared to EA females. Levels of recent and lifetime experiences of discrimination were associated with some stress biomarkers. Salivary cortisol was associated with oxidation of LDL-cholesterol with shorter lag times and increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

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Mid-South Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center for Health Disparity Research NIMHHD U54 MD008176 & the Social Determinants of Health Measurement Core, William Cockerham and Bryant Hamby; UAB Center for Clinical and Translational Science - NCATS UL1 TR000165; UAB Diabetes Research Center - NIDDK DRC: P30 DK079626 & Andrea Cherrington; UAB BioAnalytical Redox Biology (BARB) Core, Kelley Smith-Johnston, and Britney Fields-Blackstock.

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All authors were involved in writing the paper and had final approval of the submitted version.

Correspondence to Yenni E. Cedillo.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Cedillo, Y.E., Lomax, R.O., Fernandez, J.R. et al. Physiological Significance of Discrimination on Stress Markers, Obesity, and LDL Oxidation among a European American and African American Cohort of Females. Int.J. Behav. Med. (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12529-020-09850-3

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  • Discrimination
  • Stress
  • Health disparities
  • Cortisol
  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative stress