Since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was yesterday (Monday 1/21/14), it seems appropriate to examine the effects of racism on aging. Perhaps not surprisingly, racism has biological consequences. In an article posted by PBS Newshour, researchers believe there is a link between racism and the shortening of telomeres. The Immortalists goes into great detail on this topic of telomeres: the division of cells leads to the shortening of telomeres, which leads to age-related health problems like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. As Bill Andrews says, “When telomeres get short, bad things happen.”
The article sites research indicating that stress causes the release of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol causes cellular damage and thus results in critically shortened telomeres.
“Dr. Chae [a social epidemiologist at the University of Maryland School of Public Health] found that men who experienced more frequent discrimination and internalized an anti-black bias had shorter telomeres than men who faced prejudice and still had positive views of their race. Even when controlling for other factors — chronologic age, socioeconomic status, overall health — those who internalized the experience were one to three years older biologically than those who had not.”
While racial prejudice takes a more visible toll on society in the form of police brutality and workplace discrimination, it’s also wreaking havoc on a cellular level as well.