Allostatic Load: Importance, Markers, and Score Determination in Minority and Disparity Populations

Abstract

Allostatic load is a physiological measure of the cumulative burden of stress on the body assessed by markers of physiological dysregulation. It is a multisystem construct that quantifies biological risk which leads to poor health and maladaptive trajectories. In this overview, which is based on a presentation made at the Flip the Script: Understanding African American Women’s Resilience in the Face of Allostatic Load meeting at Ohio State University in August 2018, we build upon previous reviews by discussing four key aspects of allostatic load, specifically its: (1) importance, (2) operationalization, (3) use in minority health and health disparities research, and (4) value in such research. Operationalized in various ways, allostatic load is composed of 10 original markers and additional markers deriving from research among minority and disparity populations. The markers represent four biological systems: (1) cardiovascular, (2) metabolic, (3) inflammatory, and (4) neuroendocrine. System-specific racial/ethnic and sex-based differences have been observed. An overall score can be determined using sample-generated or empirically derived clinically relevant cut points. In summary, allostatic load provides an overall and a body system-specific mechanistic link between exposures to stressors and health outcomes that may help explain health disparities among minority populations.

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Acknowledgments

This work was financially supported by the Divisions of Intramural Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities; and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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Correspondence to Erik J. Rodriquez.

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Rodriquez, E.J., Kim, E.N., Sumner, A.E. et al. Allostatic Load: Importance, Markers, and Score Determination in Minority and Disparity Populations. J Urban Health 96, 3–11 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-019-00345-5

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Keywords

  • Allostasis
  • Stress
  • African Americans
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Epidemiologic measurements