Being the victim of racism can lead to rapid aging, according to a new study.
Researchers studied 92 African-American males age 30 to 50. They found those participants who experienced the most discrimination and showed the strongest negative attitudes against their own racial group showed more cellular aging than men the same age.
Scientists viewed the length of telomeres, sequences of nucleotides at the end of a DNA molecule, in participants. Telomeres become shorter as time goes by.
“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," said lead investigator Dr. David H. Chae, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
Stress and depression are known to make telomeres disappear faster. Researchers believe victims of racism who internalize discrimination suffer greater stress.
"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."
African-Americans have a shorter life expectancy and higher chance of developing chronic age-related illness compared to white, CBS News reported. Racism could be having more of a negative impact on health than previously thought.
"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 said. "Our findings suggest that racism literally makes people old."