Brunst said there are some diseases for which Black women are more at risk — obesity, diabetes and certain cancers — so they might be more affected by stress and subsequently develop these diseases which have also been linked to stress.
“What was interesting about the study was that Hispanics exposed to stress had fewer placental mitochondrial DNA mutations,” says Brunst.
She says one explanation could be what researchers call the “Hispanic paradox.” It is the epidemiological phenomenon documenting better health and lower mortality relative to non-Hispanic whites despite greater risk and lower socioeconomic status for Hispanics.
“Despite exposure to more stress and trauma, sociocultural dynamics specific to Hispanics may attenuate experiences of stress which in turn has downstream effects on psychophysiological mechanisms and better outcomes,” says Brunst. “This is just one possible explanation.”
Other co-authors of this study are Xiang Zhang, PhD, and Li Zhang, PhD, both associate professors in the UC College of Medicine, along with Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD, and Tessa Bloomquist, both of Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, and Rosalind Wright, MD, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.
The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute under grants R01HL095606 and R01HL114396; the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences under grants R00ES024116, P30ES006096 and P30ES023515.
Brunst led a previous research study that looked at the correlation between exposure to traffic-related air pollution and childhood anxiety, by looking at the altered neurochemistry in pre-adolescents. She is also recipient of a recent $2.9 million five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health for the research project, “Epigenetics, air pollution, and childhood mental health.”
Featured image at top of Kelly Brunst, PhD, in the UC College of Medicine courtesy of Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand.