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Study examines exposure to racism linked to brain changes that may affect health
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Dr. Fani in her lab

A new study led by Emory Healthcare neuropsychologist Negar Fani, PhD, looked at the brains of Black women who reported having experiences with racial discrimination. The study, which is the first of its kind, identified associations between discrimination, brain white matter integrity and incidence of medical disorders in Black American women.

Through the use of MRI scans, the study found clear evidence a type of racial trauma or racial discrimination increases risk for health problems through its effects on brain pathways that are important for self-regulation. These findings demonstrate how racial discrimination can shape regulatory behaviors such as eating and substance use through damaging effects on brain white matter pathways.

Findings from the study can be especially important for healthcare providers, as well as shaping public policy.

“If racial discrimination leads to poor health outcomes via damaging effects on the brain, then greater attention can be paid to eliminating these interactions on a systemic level,” says Fani, assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory School of Medicine. “In primary care settings, racial trauma should be assessed in health screening tools and similarly be targeted in psychotherapy by mental health providers.”

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