Race-related lifetime stress exposure (LSE) including racial discrimination, trauma, and stressful life events have been shown to contribute to racial health disparities. However, little is known about associations between race-related stressors and premature biological aging that confer the risk of adverse health outcomes. Even less is known about the mechanisms through which race-related stressors may be associated with accelerated aging. Early evidence suggests psychological processes such as anger, and particularly the internalization of anger, may play a role.
In a community sample of predominantly low-income Black adults (n = 219; age = 45.91 [12.33] years; 64% female), the present study examined the association of race-related LSE (as defined by exposure to racial discrimination, trauma, and stressful life events) and epigenetic age acceleration through anger expression.
Internalized and externalized anger expression were each significantly associated with LSE and age acceleration. Although LSE was not directly associated with age acceleration (ΔR2 = 0.001, p = .64), we found that greater LSE was indirectly associated with age acceleration through increases in internalized, but not externalized, anger (indirect effect: β = 0.03, standard error = 0.02, 95% confidence interval = 0.003 to 0.08; total effect: β = 0.02, 95% confidence interval = −0.25 to 0.31).
These results suggest race-related LSE may elicit the internalization of anger, which, along with the externalization of anger, may initiate detrimental epigenetic alterations that confer the risk of adverse health outcomes. These findings lay the groundwork for longitudinal studies of the association between race-related stress and racial health disparities.