Puerto Ricans living in the United States mainland present multiple disparities in prevalence of chronic diseases, relative to other racial and ethnic groups. Allostatic load (AL), or the cumulative wear and tear of physiological responses to stressors such as major life events, social and environmental burden, has been proposed as a possible mechanism for the inequalities observed in minority groups, but has not been studied in Puerto Ricans. The aim of this study was to determine the association of AL to six chronic diseases (abdominal obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and self-reported cardiovascular disease (CVD), arthritis and cancer) in Puerto Ricans, and to contrast AL to metabolic syndrome (MetS). Participants of the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study (n=1116, ages 45-75 years) underwent a home-based interview, where questionnaires were completed and biological samples collected. A summary definition of AL was constructed using clinically-defined cutoffs and medication use for 10 physiological parameters in different body systems. Logistic regression models were run to determine associations between AL score and disease status, controlling for age, sex, smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, total fat intake and energy intake. Parallel models were also run with MetS score replacing AL. We found that increasing categories of AL score were significantly associated with abdominal obesity, hypertension, diabetes and self-reported cardiovascular disease (CVD) and arthritis, but not with self-reported cancer. The strength of associations of AL with all conditions, except diabetes and cancer, was similar to or larger than those of MetS score. In conclusion, Puerto Rican older adults experienced physiological dysregulation that was associated with increased odds of chronic conditions. AL was more strongly associated with most conditions, compared to MetS, suggesting that this cumulative measure may be a better predictor of disease. These results have prospective research implications for Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups.
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