At first glance, it might seem as if having multiple children could be quite taxing to the body’s health. Children require endless hours of care and supervision, particularly when they are young. But suppose that women with multiple offspring actually aged slower than their childless counterparts?
The Long and Short of It
A team of Canadian researchers have concluded that childbirth could help put the brakes on the aging process. Issued by Simon Fraser University, this study evaluated a group of 75 Guatemalan mothers. The subjects lived in two adjacent communities, located in a rural part of the country.
The authors focused on the mothers’ DNA, specifically a region found at the tip of chromosomes called telomeres. To measure the length of these DNA sections, saliva samples were collected at the beginning and end of the study’s 13 year timeframe. Telomeres have a major say in how the body ages; as cells replicate, telomere length steadily shrinks, to the point that they may be unable to shield chromosomes from damage. It is this damage that precipitates cellular aging.
Compared to those with fewer offspring, the study found that women who birthed greater numbers of children had longer telomeres. The Simon Fraser team was the first group of researchers to examine this relationship.
Explaining the Link
So why would having several children hinder the aging process? The study authors offered two possible explanations. First, the female body’s level of estrogen increases during pregnancy, which might have the effect of protecting cells from the effects of eroding telomeres. A second explanation could be the significant social support the subjects received from both friends and family.
Publishing their work in the journal PLOS One, the research team argued that future research into this subject should focus on “the potential role of social support.” In addition, they also stressed the importance of examining “estradiol and other potential biological pathways.”