The discrimination experienced by sexual minorities can increase the chance of a heart attack, but support from their father may be an antidote, according to new research from New York University.
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“Father support mitigates the negative effects of discrimination on inflammation, but only for low to moderate levels,” Dr. Stephanie Cook, senior author of the study and assistant professor of biostatics and social behavioral sciences at New York University College of Global Public Health, told ABC News.
“We neglect the role of fathers and we need to increase interventions as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer youth are more likely to be rejected by their fathers. Public policy needs to focus on how we can increase support,” she continued.
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Researchers examined C-reactive proteins, or CRP, which increase when something starts to become inflamed in the body. This biomarker can be measured in the blood and may potentially predict future cardiovascular risk. Researchers looked at CRP in relation to perceived discrimination with both maternal and paternal support.
The study took high schoolers in grades 7 to 12 who were subsequently followed into young adulthood. They were interviewed about their sexual orientation, and those who were sexual minorities were asked about any discrimination they’d felt, and the social support they got from their father and mother.
“Mothers’ support does not mitigate the negative effects of discrimination on inflammation. For fathers’ support, there is an association between perceived discrimination and inflammation for both sexual minority and heterosexual youth,” according to Cook. “We spend so much time on maternal support, but we lose track of the father support. We are seeing biological outcomes that we need to think more critically about.”
In an interview with ABC News, Dr. Kristen Eckstrand, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Western Psychiatric Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said, “There is a link between experience of discrimination and chronic inflammatory markers. Whether or not it’s legal to discriminate against people of sexual minorities should be called into question.”
“There are critical figures in people’s lives that may be able to buffer against that risk,” Eckstrand continued. “Parental acceptance is well known among LGBTQ youth, the role of the father figure itself is protective.”
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However, she cautioned, “If we had a range with not very supportive to very supportive, then we may have seen a link with mothers. It’s hard to tell because all of this is taken at one time point. My guess is that we would find something similar with the mother.”
It’s not clear what factors played into the participants’ answers, said Eckstrand, who was not involved in the study.
“Is the child being discriminated as a result of other people, or is the result being driven by the fact that the discrimination was by the father?” Eckstrand said.
Dr. Morissa Ladinsky, associate professor of pediatrics at UAB/Children’s Hospital of Alabama, called family acceptance “the most critical mediator to long term medical and physical health for sexual minority and gender diverse youth.”
Ladinsky, who was not involved in the study, added, “When a youth feels isolated and shamed at home, the proteins released in fight or flight response does alter the longer-term decision-making that underlies overall adult health. Kids who have multiple adverse childhood events are more likely to have substance dependence, obesity and mental health outcomes. One in four youths are kicked out of the house when they come out.”
“From a public health perspective, primary prevention programs that reduce stigma are key,” she said. “Increasing visibility in positive ways, and strategically using internet and social media to depict sexual minorities as simply people — not as a choice and not a sin — [are crucial].”