Racism may cause accelerated aging in Black males, according to a recent study at the University Of Maryland.
Researchers reportedly found advanced cellular aging in Black men who experienced high amounts of racial discrimination and held self-hatred attitudes.
“We examined a biomarker of systemic aging, known as leukocyte telomere length,”said Dr. David H. Chae, an epidemiology assistant professor at the university and the study’s lead investigator.
Telomeres are repetitive DNA sources lining the ends of chromosomes. While they shorten as people age, they shrink more rapidly in people suffering from considerable psychosocial and physiological stress.
“Telomere length may be a better indicator of biological age, which can give us insight in to variations in the cumulative ‘wear and tear’ of the organism net of chronological age,” Chae said.
A shortened telomere length has been linked to greater risk of premature death and diseases, such as diabetes and stroke.
“We found that the African-American men who experienced greater racial discrimination and who displayed a stronger bias against their own racial group had the shortest telomeres of those studied,” Chae revealed.
These males had telomeres 140 base pairs shorter than those who’d experienced lesser racial discrimination. The chronological difference between the two groups was 1.4-2.8 years.
The study’s participants featured 92 African-American men between 30 to 50 years old. Facilitators asked them about their past experiences with discrimination, from housing to store service to police treatment. They also monitored bias using the Black-White Implicit Association Test, which measures subconscious attitudes about other races that people may harbor.
Though Black males with internalized self-image problems had shorter telomeres, Black males with positive attitudes had longer ones.
“African-American men who have more positive views of their racial group may be buffered from the negative impact of racial discrimination,” Chae said. “In contrast, those who have internalized an anti-Black bias may be less able to cope with racist experiences, which may result in greater stress and shorter telomeres.”
The results come around extensive media coverage of issues like stop and frisk and store profiling. Respondents most-commonly reported police discrimination, followed by employment discrimination, in the study.
Chae warned that there is a need to follow the participants over time to ensure the findings.
“Despite the limitations of our study, we contribute to a growing body of research showing that social toxins disproportionately impacting African-American men are harmful to health,” he said. “Our findings suggest that racism literally makes people old.”