Psychological stress can contribute to health disparities in populations that are confronted with the recurring stress of everyday life. A number of biomarkers have been shown to be affected by psychological stress. These biomarkers include allostatic load, which is a summary measure of the cumulative biological burden of the repeated attempts to adapt to daily stress. Allostatic load includes effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, the sympathetic nervous system and the cardiovascular system. These in turn affect the immune system via bidirectional signaling pathways. Evidence is also building that psychological stress, perhaps via heightened inflammatory states, can increase oxidative stress levels and DNA damage. The inter-relationships of ethnicity, genotype, gene expression and ability to adequately mitigate stress response are just starting to be appreciated. The need to conduct these studies in disadvantaged populations is clear and requires methods to address potential logistical barriers. Biomarkers can help characterize and quantify the biological impact of psychological stress on the etiology of health disparities.
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