Full house, fuller life: The more children a woman has, the more slowly she ages

February 22, 2019

Just as the U.S. birthrate has hit an all-time low—at 12.2 newborns per 1,000 women aged 14-44 during 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control—a study has found that, the more children a woman has, the more youthful she remains.

It’s counterintuitive, considering all the mental and physical stress mothers experience. However, a study conducted in 2016 by researchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University indicates that the higher the number of children a woman gives birth to, the more slowly her body will age, People magazine reported on February 20.

Specifically, the study led by health sciences professor Pablo Nepomnaschy and postdoctoral researcher Cindy Barha found that women who give birth to more surviving children exhibited longer telomeres. Telomeres are the protective tips found at the end of each DNA strand and are indicative of cellular aging. Longer telomeres are integral to cell replication and are associated with longevity.

Some common physical examples of this can be seen in skin and hair, which are most affected by the shortening because they reproduce the most often, the study has found.

The researchers actually did not study a cohort of U.S. women. Instead, they evaluated a pool of 75 indigenous Guatemalan women over the course of 13 years—finding that the women who gave birth to more children had longer telomeres.

Hormones may play a role in the anti-aging results, Nepomnaschy recently told Science Daily, noting, “The slower pace of telomere shortening found in the study participants who have more children … may be attributed to the dramatic increase in estrogen, a hormone produced during pregnancy.”

This makes sense, he said, because,“Estrogen functions as a potent antioxidant that protects cells against telomere shortening.”

Another plausible explanation for why having a higher number of children slows down the shortening of telomeres is the social environment it creates. Nepomnaschy explained that women with more kids tend to receive more support from outside sources, like relatives and friends, which can help increase the amount of metabolic energy that such mothers have. This, in turn, contributes to tissue upkeep and slows down aging.

Research contact: @SFU_FHS

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