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Although the saying “Black don’t crack” is popular, a new study says discrimination could be a cause of premature aging in African Americans.

The research, published in the medical journal Health Psychology found that Black people who said they were discriminated against over a 10-year period showed evidence of more rapidly aging cells, The Hill reported. Scientists say that the shortening of DNA sequences called telomeres which prevent chromosomes from deteriorating is behind it all.

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Shorter telomeres lead to a higher risk of ailments like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and dementia. But there is a factor that contributes to the cell aging: “One of the factors that can lead to more rapid telomere shortening is high levels of stress,” researcher Dr. David Chae, an associate professor at Auburn University in Alabama, said, according to a statement. “Racial discrimination is a particular type of stress experienced by African Americans that contributes to well-documented health disparities. We investigated one particular mechanism through which this occurs, namely, its impact on the telomere maintenance system.”

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According to, 391 African Americans participated in the study. Each of them was in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Telomere Ancillary Study and came from Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland. A baseline set of data was collected in 2000 when participants were 40 and again in 2010. They were asked about instances of discrimination, which they described experiencing in day-to-day life, or at work or in the process of finding employment.

According to Chae, one of the strong points of the study was that researchers could see how discrimination affects the health of African Americans. They “were able to explicitly look at how changes in African Americans’ experiences of racial discrimination over time are directly related to rates of telomere shortening.”