News Stories

Your Immune System is Racial

Differences in genes between people of European versus African ancestry can affect how each group responds to certain drugs or fights off specific infections. In other words, your race partly determines how effective your immune system is. We know that stress kills because it promotes heart disease. Scientists are now saying it may kill another way: by leading to more?and earlier?cases of breast cancer, especially in black women!

Researchers studied 60 nuclear families, including mother, father and child. Thirty of the families were Caucasians from Utah and 30 were Yorubans from Nigeria. Researcher Eileen Dolan says, "Our primary interest is the genes that regulate how people respond to medicines, such as cancer chemotherapy. We want to understand why different populations experience different degrees of toxicity when taking certain drugs and learn how to predict who might be most at risk for drug side effects."

But in the process they saw several other differences. Some, including variation in the immune system's response to microbial invaders, were expected. Previous studies have found that African Americans may be more susceptible than Caucasians to infection by certain bacteria.

It's long been known that African-Americans are more susceptible to problems such as heart disease. This was thought to be due to life style differences, but it may also be due to their genes.

But EVERYONE should eat their broccoli?whether you like it or not! That's the advice from researchers who have found that a chemical in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may help restore our body's immunity, which declines as we age.

Researcher Andre Nel says, "As we age, the ability of the immune system to fight disease and infections and protect against cancer wears down as a result of the impact of oxygen radicals on the immune system." But sulforaphane, a chemical in broccoli, combats the injurious effects of molecules known as free radicals that can damage cells and lead to disease.

Despite the fact that African-Americans are far more likely to be diagnosed with and to die from colon cancer than whites or other minority groups, they are far less likely to undergo colonoscopy screening than whites, even when both groups have a family history of colorectal cancer. Researcher Harvey Murff says, "Clearly we need to do a better job of closing this gap in screening, especially for high-risk patients in underserved populations."

Other researchers are studying possible connections between living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and the development of early onset breast cancer because African-Americans develop breast cancer earlier than white women, and it is often much deadlier. Olufunmilayo Olopade, a professor at the University of Chicago, has studied early onset breast cases in Nigerian women, whose genetic heritage is similar to African-Americans because the ancestors of African Americans largely came from West Africa. While white women usually develop the disease after menopause, it develops prior to menopause among women of African heritage.

Olopade and fellow researcher Sarah Gehlert are studying 230 black women with newly diagnosed breast cancers living in predominantly black Chicago neighborhoods to learn about environmental factors, such as neighborhood features that might lead to social isolation and the stress of being alone in dangerous living conditions. They started their research with by studying the development of spontaneous mammary tumors in socially isolated rats.

Gehlert says, "These women experience stress from dealing with situations they cannot control, from seeing crime in their neighborhood, from being afraid to go out, and not being able to form casual relationships with their neighbors that might make them feel safe."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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