African American men in the US experience disparities across multiple health outcomes. A common mechanism underlying premature declines in health may be accelerated biological aging, as reflected by leukocyte telomere length (LTL). Racial discrimination, a qualitatively unique source of social stress reported by African American men, in tandem with poor mental health, may negatively impact LTL in this population. The current study examined cross-sectional associations between LTL, self-reported racial discrimination, and symptoms of depression and anxiety among 92 African American men 30-50 years of age. LTL was measured in kilobase pairs using quantitative polymerase chain reaction assay. Controlling for sociodemographic factors, greater anxiety symptoms were associated with shorter LTL (b=-0.029, standard error [SE]=0.014; p<0.05). There were no main effects of racial discrimination or depressive symptoms on LTL, but we found evidence for a significant interaction between the two (b=0.011, SE=0.005; p<0.05). Racial discrimination was associated with shorter LTL among those with lower levels of depressive symptoms. Findings from this study highlight the role of social stressors and individual-level psychological factors for physiologic deterioration among African American men. Consistent with research on other populations, greater anxiety may reflect elevated stress associated with shorter LTL. Racial discrimination may represent an additional source of social stress among African American men that has detrimental consequences for cellular aging among those with lower levels of depression.
Keywords: African American men; Anxiety; Depression; Leukocyte telomere length; Racial discrimination.
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