Lifestyle incongruity, stress and immune function in indigenous Siberians: the health impacts of rapid social and economic change

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2009 Jan;138(1):62-9. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20899.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of economic and cultural change on immune function and psychosocial stress in an indigenous Siberian population. We examined Epstein-Barr virus antibodies (EBV), an indirect biomarker of cell-mediated immune function, in venous whole blood samples collected from 143 Yakut (Sakha) herders (45 men and 98 women) in six communities using a cross-sectional study design. We modeled economic change through the analysis of lifestyle incongruity (LI), calculated as the disparity between socioeconomic status and material lifestyle, computed with two orthogonal scales: market and subsistence lifestyle. EBV antibody level was significantly negatively associated with both a market and a subsistence lifestyle, indicating higher cell-mediated immune function associated with higher material lifestyle scores. In contrast, LI was significantly positively associated with EBV antibodies indicating lower immune function, and suggesting higher psychosocial stress, among individuals with economic status in excess of material lifestyle. Individuals with lower incongruity scores (i.e., economic status at parity with material resources, or with material resources in excess of economic status) had significantly lower EBV antibodies. The findings suggest significant health impacts of changes in material well-being and shifting status and prestige markers on health during the transition to a market economy in Siberia. The findings also suggest that relative, as opposed to absolute, level of economic status or material wealth is more strongly related to stress in the Siberian context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agriculture
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic
  • Culture
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / epidemiology
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / immunology
  • Female
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Incidence
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Racial Groups
  • Rural Population
  • Siberia / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Physiological / immunology
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology