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People who reported more discrimination aged faster biologically – study

Everyday and major discrimination were consistently associated with biological aging, while exposure to discrimination in the workplace was also linked to accelerated aging, but its impact was comparatively less severe. 

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Discrimination is linked to accelerated biological aging, with people who reported more discrimination aging faster biologically compared to those who experienced less discrimination.

This is according to a study – “Multi-discrimination exposure and biological aging: Results from the midlife in the United States study” by Adolfo G. Cuevas, Steven W. Cole, Daniel W. Belsky, et al – that appeared in Brain Behavior & Immunity–Health.

To better understand the connection between discrimination and aging, Cuevas and his colleagues looked at three measures of DNA methylation, a marker that can be used to assess the biological impacts of stress and the aging process. Blood samples and surveys were collected from nearly 2,000 US adults as part of the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study, a longitudinal analysis of health and well-being funded by the National Institute on Aging. 

Participants were asked about their experiences with three forms of discrimination: everyday, major, and workplace. Everyday discrimination refers to subtle and minor instances of disrespect in daily life, whereas major discrimination focuses on acute and intense instances of discrimination (for example, being physically threatened by police officers). Discrimination in the workplace includes unjust practices, stunted professional opportunities, and punishment based on identity. 

The researchers found that discrimination was linked to accelerated biological aging, with people who reported more discrimination aging faster biologically compared to those who experienced less discrimination. Everyday and major discrimination were consistently associated with biological aging, while exposure to discrimination in the workplace was also linked to accelerated aging, but its impact was comparatively less severe. 

“While health behaviors partly explain these disparities, it’s likely that a range of processes are at play connecting psychosocial stressors to biological aging,” said Cuevas.

In addition, the link between discrimination and accelerated biological aging varied by race. Black study participants reported more discrimination and tended to exhibit older biological age and faster biological aging. However, White participants, who reported less discrimination, were more susceptible to the impacts of discrimination when they did experience it, perhaps due to less frequent exposure and fewer coping strategies. (Data on other racial and ethnic groups were not available in the MIDUS study.)

“These findings underscore the importance of addressing all forms of discrimination to support healthy aging and promote health equity,” Cuevas ended.

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