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The Silent Strain: How Chronic Stress Impacts Black People’s Health

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Stress is an inevitable part of life, but when it becomes chronic, it can take a significant toll on one’s health and well-being. Chronic stress is an especially pressing concern within the Black community, as it can have a disproportionate impact on the health of Black individuals, leading to heart disease, high blood pressure and other health issues.

VeryWell Health notes, that life stressors often contribute to higher levels of stress in the Black community including racism, institutional inequities and income inequality.

Heart disease and stroke can be caused by chronic stress. 

One of the most profound impacts of chronic stress is on the adrenal glands. Studies have shown that chronic stress can increase the adrenal glands’ production of cortisol, which is the hormone that controls the body’s “fight or flight” response. When cortisol is overactive in the body for a prolonged period, it can have a detrimental impact, leading to high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues and the production of “bad cholesterol.”

Some health experts believe that biological weathering is an unfortunate by-product of chronic stress. Repeated exposure to issues like political marginalization and perpetual discrimination can lead to cell aging and deterioration, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

In 2019, a study conducted by the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA) found that Black people who reported high levels of chronic stress were at a heightened risk of developing high blood pressure from unique stressors like discrimination and socioeconomic disparities.

Inside the study, researchers examined the blood pressure and stress levels of 1829 Black participants without hypertension over 13 years. After seven years, experts reported high stress levels and a 22% increased risk of high blood pressure in some of the participants. Tanya Spruill, PhD, one of the lead authors behind the study, claimed that nearly half of the participants developed hypertension following the experiment.

“This highlights the need for new hypertension prevention strategies for African Americans. Lifestyle change is effective, however, it can be challenging to achieve,” Spruill said, noting there more research is needed to develop an efficient medical plan to treat Black patients with chronic stress.

“We believe intervention studies are needed to determine if reducing stress among African Americans can reduce the risk of developing hypertension. This could have a significant impact on cardiovascular health outcomes and disparities,” she added.

Chronic stress is a silent yet pervasive threat to the health of Black individuals. It is essential to recognize and address the unique stressors that this community faces, both historical and contemporary. By fostering resilience, raising awareness, advocating for policy change and improving access to health services, we can work towards mitigating the impact of chronic stress and promoting better health and well-being for all members of the Black community.

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