A research team including two Albertans warns of the negative effects associated with discrimination causing physical problems and accelerating aging.
Dr. Olga Kovalchuk — biology professor — from the University of Lethbridge (UofL), and her daughter Dr. Anna Fiselier from the University of Calgary (UofC) are part of the research team and asking to increase efforts to end discrimination as it can be detrimental to the human body.
“Persistent, chronic stress causes negative outcomes,” says Kovalchuk. “In addition to accelerating our efforts to end discrimination, we need to identify the health effects of discrimination and develop proper health measures to combat these issues.”
Ongoing stress can be hard on the body and it can affect people’s metabolism and inflammation reactions. Researchers say when our body is continuously trying to fight discrimination through the activation of the stress-response system, our system starts to get tired as it suffers from “significant wear and tear.”
The research suggests that these factors foster the development of age-related diseases at earlier stages in life, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, asthma, and autoimmune conditions.
As a result, human gene expression can be altered as age-related diseases have an epigenetic basis.
The researchers also suggest discrimination not only affects the victims that have to endure it, but also affects the entire society as it can isolate people and limit their ability to access services including health services.
Researchers say the pandemic has uncovered issues of systemic discrimination, where they suspect victims of discrimination are prone to a higher risk of long COVID-19.
“Despite the expansion of global equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) efforts, discrimination is still a challenge for large groups in our society,” says Fiselier. “Those who experience discrimination daily include women, immigrants, the elderly, minorities, lower-income persons, people with disabilities, as well as people experiencing addiction and mental health challenges.”
The good news is, there is still something to do to reverse the health aging symptoms associated with discrimination.
“Epigenetic changes are pliable and reversible,” says Fiselier. “That’s why timely intervention and the prevention of discrimination may help limit the potential of severe health consequences for those who experience discrimination.”
The study titled “From discrimination and dis-ease to aging and disease — An epigenetic connection” was published in Lancet Regional Health — Americas.