American Indian adults are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease compared with non-Hispanic white adults. Scant research exists examining the underlying physiological and psychological mechanisms associated with these risks. This study aimed to examine possible psychological and physiological stress-related mechanisms related to cardiovascular disease risk in healthy American Indian and non-Hispanic white adults. Forty American Indian (60% female, Mean age = 19.93, SD = 2.08 years) and 45 non-Hispanic white (70% female, Mean age = 20.18, SD = 2.22 years) participants attended an in-person laboratory session. Salivary cortisol and cardiovascular activity were measured before (baseline), during, and after exposure to a 10-minute mental arithmetic task. Compared to non-Hispanic white participants, American Indian had diminished salivary cortisol (p < .001), blood pressure (p's < .001), and heart rate (p = .041) responses to acute psychological stress. These effects could not be accounted for by differences in task performance or self-reported engagement. Previous research has shown that exaggerated responses to stress are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, diminished responses to stress are associated with early childhood stress and future adverse behaviors (e.g., addiction, obesity). Diminished reactivity may influence behaviors that can impact future development of cardiovascular disease in American Indian populations.
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