APR 10, 2024 2:24 PM PDT

Experiencing Racism Linked to Alzheimer's Biomarkers

WRITTEN BY: Amielle Moreno

Recent research has unveiled biological evidence linking racial discrimination and the risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) among Black Americans. This study, published in Alzheimer's & Dementia, seeks to illuminate the hidden biological consequences of systemic racism on the brain.

The Link between Discrimination and Biological Disorder

Alzheimer's disease or related dementia affects around 3.2 million (11.5%) Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older as of 2014. Notably, this disease disproportionately affects Black Americans (14.7%), highlighting a significant racial disparity in disease burden.

Simons and his team hypothesized that, much like the impact of stress on other chronic illnesses, the enduring stress of racism might escalate the risk of dementia for Black Americans.

Assessing the effects of racism with biomarkers

Over 17 years, researchers analyzed data from 255 Black American participants, studying key Alzheimer's disease biomarkers—phosphorylated tau181 (p-tau181), neurofilament light (NfL), and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)—present in their blood serum.

The study also utilized detailed questionnaires to gauge participants' experiences of racism, capturing instances of discrimination ranging from disrespectful encounters to racial slurs and biased treatment based on race.

Revelations: Connecting the Dots

After an extensive analysis, Dr. Ronald L. Simmons, the lead researcher from the University of Georgia, emphasized that "Eleven years later when the study participants were roughly 57 years old, we found that increased discrimination during middle age significantly correlated with higher levels of both p-Tau181 and NfL,"

These results are not isolated but instead echo previous research linking exposure to racial discrimination with various chronic illnesses, accelerated aging on a genetic level (epigenetic aging), and increased mortality rates.

Implications for the Future of Research and Society

These findings shed light on the physiological toll exacted by racial stress. According to the authors, the stressors encountered by Black Americans appear to be "biologically embedded" and contribute significantly to Alzheimer's pathology and neurodegeneration later in life.

Dr. Michelle Mielke, a professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, underscores the importance of these results: "This research can help inform policies and interventions to reduce racial disparities and reduce dementia risk."

The biological consequences of racial discrimination on Alzheimer's risk highlight the profound interplay between societal factors and individual health. As science unravels these complexities, the imperative to foster equity and well-being remains ever more pressing.


Sources: EurekAlert!, Alzheimer’s & Dementia (1)(2)

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
Amielle Moreno earned her doctorate in neuroscience from Emory University and has dedicated her career to science communication, news coverage, and academic writing/editing. She is a published researcher who has branched out to author articles for various science websites. She recently published an original research article detailing her findings on how sensory areas of the brain respond to social sound. When she's not writing or editing, you can find her spinning the latest neuroscience news into comedy gold, hosting her podcast "Miss Behavior Journal Club." This fortnightly humorous podcast features the latest in behavioral research. Her goal in life is to defend and discover scientific truths.
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