Minority stress and inflammatory mediators: covering moderates associations between perceived discrimination and salivary interleukin-6 in gay men

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Physical health disparities by sexual orientation are widespread yet under-investigated. Drawing upon theories of biological embedding of social adversity, we tested whether minority stress (in the form of perceived discrimination) is associated with salivary interleukin-6 (IL-6), an inflammatory mediator. Furthermore, we examined whether covering, a strategy involving downplaying a stigmatized social identity, modified this association. A community sample (N = 99) of gay men (n = 78) and lesbian women (n = 21) completed self-report measures of minority stress and identity management and provided saliva samples which were assayed for IL-6. Among gay men, results from generalized linear models supported a hypothesized interaction between perceived discrimination and covering, such that perceived discrimination was predictive of higher levels of IL-6 for those who engaged in less covering but not for those who engaged in more covering. This interaction was robust to a number of potential covariates (alcohol, medication, body mass index, race and age). Results for lesbian women suggested a different pattern: the only statistically significant association detected was between greater perceived discrimination and lower levels of IL-6. Findings from the current study point to an important role for inflammatory processes in understanding and remediating health disparities based upon sexual orientation that stem from exposure to prejudice and discrimination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)782-92
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of behavioral medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


  • Adult
  • Female
  • Homophobia
  • Homosexuality, Male/psychology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators/metabolism
  • Interleukin-6/metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Groups/psychology
  • Social Discrimination/psychology

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