African-Americans having a shorter life expectancy and a greater likelihood of suffering from aging-related illnesses at younger ages compared to European-Americans.
A new paper claims that it may be racism impacting aging - at the cellular level. The correlation is that the epidemiologists, doing their part to turn their field into sociology, found signs of accelerated aging in African-American men who who had internalized anti-African-American attitudes or reported high levels of racial discrimination.
Participants in the study were 92 African-American men between 30-50 years of age. Investigators asked them about their experiences of discrimination in different domains, including work and housing, as well as in getting service at stores or restaurants, from the police, and in other public settings. They measured racial bias using the Black-White Implicit Association Test, which is a way to find racism, even in non-racists. If you aren't racist, it will still gauge your unconscious attitudes and beliefs about race groups that you may be unaware of or are unwilling to report.
That is how black men were found to be racist against other black men - and they had the same accelerated aging as the black men who endure New York City's 'stop and frisk' policy for no reason.
"We examined a biomarker of systemic aging, known as leukocyte telomere length," explained Dr. David H. Chae, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the paper's lead author.
Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA capping the ends of chromosomes, which shorten progressively over time – at a rate of approximately 50-100 base pairs annually. Shorter telomere length is associated with increased risk of premature death and chronic disease such as diabetes, dementia, stroke and heart disease. Telomere length is variable, shortening more rapidly under conditions of high psychosocial and physiological stress, according to some studies.
"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," said Chae. "Telomere length may be a better indicator of biological age, which can give us insight into variations in the cumulative 'wear and tear' of the organism net of chronological age."
Among African-American men with stronger anti-
African-American attitudes, the scholars found that average telomere length was 140 base pairs shorter in those reporting high vs. low levels of racial discrimination; this difference may equate to 1.4 to 2.8 years chronologically.
Even after adjusting for participants' chronological age, socioeconomic factors, and health-related characteristics, investigators found that the combination of high racial discrimination and anti-Black bias was associated with the shortest telomeres.
Yet racial discrimination had little relationship with telomere length among those holding pro-Black attitudes, which should be an alarm bell that this is all just taking curves that match and creating correlation-causation.
"African American men who have more positive views of their racial group may be buffered from the negative impact of racial discrimination," explained Chae. "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 scholars found that racial discrimination by police was most commonly reported by participants in the study, followed by discrimination in employment. In addition, African American men claimed to be routinely treated with less courtesy or respect, and experience other daily hassles related to racism.
Chae indicated the need for additional research to replicate findings, including larger studies that follow participants over time. "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," Chae explained. "Our findings suggest that racism literally makes people old."
Citation: David H. Chae, ScD, MA, Amani M. Nuru-Jeter, PhD, Nancy E. Adler, PhD, Gene H. Brody, PhD, Jue Lin, PhD, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, Elissa S. Epel, PhD, 'Discrimination, Racial Bias, and Telomere Length in African-American Men', American Journal of Preventive Medicine February 2014, Vol. 46, No. 2 DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.10.020