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Biological Pathways Linking Social Conditions and Health: Plausible Mechanisms and Emerging Puzzles 

Biological Pathways Linking Social Conditions and Health: Plausible Mechanisms and Emerging Puzzles
Chapter:
Biological Pathways Linking Social Conditions and Health: Plausible Mechanisms and Emerging Puzzles
Author(s):

Laura D. Kubzansky

, Teresa E. Seeman

, and M. Maria Glymour

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780195377903.003.0014
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date: 30 May 2020

How do social experiences—such as isolation, poverty, or stressful events—change human physiology to induce disease? This chapter focuses primarily but not exclusively on pathways mediated by cognitive processes, such as stress responses activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). It discusses evidence on links between social experiences and changes in subclinical measures of physiologic functioning, including neurologic and endocrine profiles, immune function, gene expression patterns, epigenetic marks, and telomere length. It frames this evidence in the context of major conceptual models for biological embedding of social conditions, including the importance of allostasis, developmental origins of health, and differential sensitivity to context. Key questions relate to plasticity/recovery and the extent to which physiologic harm accumulates over the lifecourse or is largely incurred during highly sensitive early developmental periods.

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