Being a victim of racism would have negative effects on both mental and physical health.
A group of scientists from Emory University in Atlanta has done a study to find out how racism affects the brain’s microstructures.
The findings were published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.
Racial discrimination or racism is a prevalent problem in the United States. It is estimated that up to 70 percent of Black people experience racism on a regular or occasional basis.
Previous studies have shown clear evidence that racism would increase the risk of certain mental and physical health problems. These may include post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, anxiety, depression, high cholesterol levels, as well as high blood pressure.
Victims of racism may also be at a higher risk of alcohol and drug abuse.
Participants in this research included 79 black women between 19 and 61 years old in Atlanta. They had no existing drug or alcohol use, bipolar disorder, and neurological conditions. Most of them were under the poverty line.
Each person was asked to complete two questionnaires concerning discrimination and trauma assessment.
After a physical exam, the scientists noted that participants faced some common health issues, including hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, and chronic pain.
The next step was to use MRI scans to learn more details about the fractional anisotropy, which indicates connectivity in the brain and helps measure cognitive capabilities.
The researchers found that racism mostly affected the cingulum bundle and corpus callosum. The cingulum bundle plays a key role in memory, emotion, and executive control, while disturbances of the corpus callosum would result in emotional and cognitive issues.
As a result, the results suggested that racial discrimination would cause distress and affect emotional regulation, which impacts self-regulatory behaviors and subsequently increases the risk of physical and mental health issues.
People with affected self-regulatory behaviors may have trouble with avoiding harmful things and tend to abuse or over-consume drugs or alcohol. As a result, it results in liver disease, heart problems, higher body mass index, and many other health issues.
The big question now is how to make use of these findings. If racial discrimination would affect the brain and thus overall health, it is important to focus on preventing it systemically.
Some health experts suggested having a questionnaire during health check-ups to help screen for this form of trauma in people.