Objective: Telomeres are protective sequences of DNA capping the ends of chromosomes that shorten over time. Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is posited to reflect the replicative history of cells and general systemic aging of the organism. Chronic stress exposure leads to accelerated LTL shortening, which has been linked to increased susceptibility to and faster progression of aging-related diseases. This study examined longitudinal associations between LTL and experiences of racial discrimination, a qualitatively unique source of minority psychosocial stress, among African Americans.
Method: Data are from 391 African Americans in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Telomere Ancillary Study. We examined the number of domains in which racial discrimination was experienced in relation to LTL collected in Years 15 and 25 (Y15: 2000/2001; Y25: 2010/2011). Multivariable linear regression examined if racial discrimination was associated with LTL. Latent change score analysis (LCS) examined changes in racial discrimination and LTL in relation to one another.
Results: Controlling for racial discrimination at Y15, multivariable linear regression analyses indicated that racial discrimination at Y25 was significantly associated with LTL at Y25. This relationship remained robust after adjusting for LTL at Y15 (b = -.019, p = .015). Consistent with this finding, LCS revealed that increases in experiences of racial discrimination were associated with faster 10-year LTL shortening (b = -.019, p = .015).
Conclusions: This study adds to evidence that racial discrimination contributes to accelerated physiologic weathering and health declines among African Americans through its impact on biological systems, including via its effects on telomere attrition. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).