Women’s Health by by Kathey Avery RN, BSN –
Black mothers are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white mothers, regardless of income or education, according to a federal Centers for Disease Control report.
A lifetime of racism can literally get into our DNA and affect the health of our newborns for more than one generation. How? Through elevated levels of cortisol that change gene expression.
Cortisol is a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels, regulates metabolism, reduces inflammation, and assists with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. In women, cortisol also supports the developing fetus during pregnancy. All these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect overall health and well-being.
However, the chronic stress of racism can cause high levels of cortisol that adversely affect not only the health of the mother but also the developing fetus and its DNA, contributing to adverse birth outcomes when combined with the effects of general and maternal stress (Nuru-Jeter et al., 2009; Dominguez et al., 2008; Canady et al., 2008). It is believed that the DNA altered by cortisol can then be passed down to subsequent generations. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression caused by chemicals like cortisol.
Additionally, perceived discrimination/racism has been shown to play a role in unhealthy behaviors such as cigarette smoking, alcohol and substance use, improper nutrition and refusal to seek medical services (Lee, Ayers, & Kronenfeld, 2009; Peek et al., 2011).
Between 2012 and 2016, the NC Department of Health and Human Services recorded 54 non-Hispanic white infant deaths in Buncombe County; in the same period, 19 non-Hispanic African American babies died. Black residents make up only 6% of the county’s population, according to a 2017 Census estimate, while infant deaths among black residents accounted for 26% of the total.
Black women and babies in Buncombe County are the newest focus at MAHEC (Mountain Area Health Education Center), which in May expanded an initiative to reduce racial disparities within infant mortality in Western North Carolina. MAHEC has teamed with Mothering Asheville, which guides a community-based doula program aimed at supporting women throughout pregnancy.
In 2018-2019 I conducted nine educational classes about infant mortality, stress, and epigenetics for over 115 participants. It is my desire to educate even more of our women in 2020 about simple stress management techniques and pre-conception planning.
Please see the following page (pdf file) for results of the 2018-2019 classes.
Kathey Avery, founder and owner of Avery Health – Education and Consulting, is dedicated to raising awareness about, and helping in the prevention of, chronic diseases and preventable cancers through patient and public education and personal accountability.
Visit www.averyhec.com or call (828) 768-2369 for more information.