David H. Chae, a social epidemiologist at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, set out to measure how the psycho-social strain of discrimination may be a reason that African-American men die six to seven years earlier than white men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He hypothesized that the stress of dealing with prejudice accelerates aging at a cellular level, reported PBS.
"We can all relate to how the experience of being treated unfairly impacts us physiologically," Chae said. "There's a cascade of biochemical reactions. Your heart rate rises, your muscles clench."
According to study results that Chae and his colleagues published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last week, racial discrimination and how African-American men internalized that prejudice to form an anti-black bias were directly related to premature aging.
Out of 92 African-American men between the ages of 30 and 50, Chae found that men who experienced more frequent discrimination and developed an anti-black bias were one to three years older biologically than those who had not (pro-black bias), even when controlling for other factors including chronologic age, socioeconomic status and overall health.
"This is part of biological pathway that translates social adversity into poor health," said Nancy Krieger, a social epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and Chae's former advisor.