Epigenetic embodiment in the context of shifting sociopolitical environments for Latinx immigrant families: implications for mental and cardiometabolic health.
- Author(s): Clausing, Elizabeth S.
- Advisor(s): Non, Amy L.
- et al.
Psychosocial stressors can become embodied to alter biology throughout the life course in ways that may have lasting health consequences. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to high burdens of stress, which have heightened in the current sociopolitical climate. This study is an investigation of how immigration-related stress may impact the mental health, cardiometabolic health, and epigenetic markers of Latinx immigrant mothers and children in Nashville, TN, across a timeframe of increasing anti-immigrant political policies. The overall aim was to investigate how stress experiences of both mothers and children may become biologically embedded through epigenetic pathways to increase risk of cardiometabolic disease later in life. We compared stress and resilience factors reported by Latina immigrant mothers and their children (aged 5-13) from two time points spanning the 2016 presidential election with cardiometabolic health markers (BMI, waist circumference, and blood pressure), mental health outcomes (e.g., anxiety and depressive symptoms), DNA methylation of stress-related genes, and epigenome-wide/epigenetic aging. Three manuscripts comprise the bulk of this dissertation, and all use data from a study entitled, “Children of Immigrants Collaborating to Overcome Stress” (CHICOS). CHICOS is a longitudinal study of primarily low-income Mexican immigrant families living in Nashville, TN between 2015-2018. The first project examined responses to open-ended questions along with quantitative scales of mental health, psychosocial stressors, and resilience factors. The second project investigated associations between psychosocial stress and resilience with cardiometabolic health biomarkers and DNA methylation of two select stress-related genes. The final project conducted a comprehensive epigenomic assessment, with an analysis of epigenetic aging and an epigenome-wide association study. Taken together, our results indicate that psychosocial stressors have been consistently high among Latinx families over time, which has had profound impacts on cardiometabolic and mental health across two generations. While epigenetic effects are modest, they may be part of important pathways of embodiment. More research is needed to determine the role of these epigenetic differences for documenting embodiment of stress across generations.