Racism and Chronic Inflammation
By Dianne Anderson
What could be worse than racism? Apparently one of its many side effects — chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is blamed for the root cause of a number of diseases, like cancer, arthritis, depression, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Last month, USC and UCLA researchers unveiled their recent RNA tests connecting the stress of racism and chronic inflammation in African Americans.
“We know discrimination is linked to health outcomes, but no one was sure exactly how it harmed health,” said April Thames, associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at USC. “I looked at it as a chronic stressor. Our results showed that racial discrimination appears to trigger an inflammatory response among African Americans at the cellular level.”
The study consisted of 71 participants of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, two-thirds African American and one-third white. It showed that African Americans are up to 50% more likely to be impacted by heightened inflammation.
While no quick cure for racism exists, there is a fix for chronic inflammation.
Certain foods like flax and Chia seeds, salmon and olive oil are all high have Omega-3’s, which brings down inflammation in the body, instead of other cooking oils that have bad Omega 6’s. White flour products, processed and fried foods also increase inflammation.
Dulce Becerra, the health educator at Community Hospital of San Bernardino, is calling on the community to come and learn more at her nutrition workshops.
The truth is hard to swallow, so she tries to give information in bite-sized pieces that participants have probably heard before, such as too much sugar and high fructose corn syrup is bad.
Starting Wednesday, July 10, her six-week free workshops “Better Choices, Better Health” covers the basics, including how participants can naturally help manage their chronic conditions, many of which are associated with high inflammation. Classes run from 10:00 a.m. To 12:30 p.m., located at 1725 Western Ave in San Bernardino.
Participants say they notice how their body responds to eating mostly nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables versus junk food. In her upcoming nutrition classes, she is also raffling off grocery store gift cards.
“We talk about if you eat a variety of colors, that different colors have different properties, and antioxidants,” she said. “There are a variety of foods that you can eat, and protective factors in foods.
Cabbage, for example, is an anti-cancer vegetable, and better than lettuce as an anti-inflammatory. But macaroni, cookies, cakes and pastries, red meats and cured foods like hot dogs and bacon, margarine and lard are all on the bad list.
In her class, Becerra said they talk about how to open up communication with the doctors for the best health outcomes.
Between the two locations, Community Hospital of San Bernardino and St. Bernardine classes, she said they reach about 150 participants each month.
At times, questions come up about processed food, sodium nitrites or sodium nitrates found in packaged meats. One public health awareness campaign earlier this year shows that just two slices of bacon a day increase colorectal cancer by 18%, according to The Physicians Committee, a nonprofit of 12,000 doctors.
Even so, she tries to get information out without scaring people off too quickly. She wants them to come back and not get discouraged or overwhelmed.
She said many in the community are not ready to hear it.
“They’re barely hearing fruits and vegetables need to be incorporated into their meals,” she said.“I have to gauge where they’re at, and kind of hook them in little by little.”
Health literacy, or even learning to read the labels, is another concern. Many people she meets have never been exposed to healthy eating, and may think diabetes is just heredity.
“They say grandma had it, mom had it, now my sister has it. We all have it,” she said.
Money and access is another concern. Organics can be expensive, but grocery stores sometimes have good deals on carrots or kale.
“It’s difficult with our population, it’s not like telling the population to eat less filet mignon,” she said, but adds that she teaches them to steer away from meat.
“In class, we talk about it – Four legs are bad. Two legs are better. No legs are best,” she said.
For informaiton on nutrition classes, contact Dulce.Becerra@DignityHealth.org or 909.806.1816