Stress, trauma, and racism occur at high rates within Indigenous communities and have not been explored as potential contributors to cardiometabolic disease (CMD). But new research examines this link and found increasing evidence that culturally specific health behaviors and activities can lessen the negative effects of these stressors.

Native American people in the US have a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease compared to all other racial groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Indigenous people not only suffer from traditional CMD risk factors, such as elevated blood sugar, hypertension, and obesity, they also now face some of the highest rates of discrimination in all areas of our society,” says principal investigator Melissa Lewis, assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, one of several Indigenous physicians to lead the work.

“When combined with the historical trauma that Indigenous people have experienced, there is additional mental health distress, which is another significant risk factor for CMD.”

Lewis describes how settler-colonialism has prohibited positive health behaviors through traditional Indigenous lifeways including hunting, fishing, and foraging and replaced them with Western systems of farming, food systems, and religion. While the researchers say further investigation is needed, they document several promising interventions already in use in some Indigenous communities that reduce CMD risk. The strategies incorporate culture, history, and needs of Indigenous people.

Read the full article about Native American health by Eric Stann at Futurity.