It's science: Moms who have more children might live longer

More science needs to be done on the impact of pregnancy and motherhood on telomeres and aging. Like so much of parenthood, your mileage may vary.

It's science: Moms who have more children might live longer
Clarissa Esquival

There's no night cream or magic pill that can keep us young forever, but a study out of Canada's Simon Fraser University suggests motherhood might be as close as we get to the fountain of youth.

Researchers found the more children a mom has, the longer her telomeres (the protective ends of our DNA). Telomere shortening is linked to aging, so we want our telomeres to stay as long as possible for as long as possible.

Basically, this study suggests that the more surviving kids a mom has, the younger she stays.

The study looked at 75 women living in rural Guatemala and measured telomere length once and then again 13 years later. "The slower pace of telomere shortening found in the study participants who have more children however, may be attributed to the dramatic increase in estrogen, a hormone produced during pregnancy," professor Pablo Nepomnaschy explained in a media release.

While the study was published in 2016, recent media reports have Nepomnaschy's work making headlines again, but there is more recent research on the subject that we should consider as well.

According to a 2018 study published in Scientific Reports, having a child can age a mother's cells by up to two years.

In this study, researchers looked at the telomere length of 821 women (all in their early twenties) in the Philippines and found the telomeres looked older for moms who'd had more babies. "Telomere length and epigenetic age are cellular markers that independently predict mortality, and both appeared 'older' in women who had more pregnancies in their reproductive histories," Calen Ryan, a doctoral student in biological anthropology at Northwestern, and lead author of the study explained. "Even after accounting for other factors that affect cellular aging, the number of pregnancies still came out on top."

For the women in the Guatemala study (where the average age of the moms was 39.4 years), having more kids kept them young, but for the women in the Philippines, it aged them.

Could it be that the physical demands of motherhood ages us in our twenties but the social support system we create through motherhood keeps us younger later in life?

As the researchers behind the Guatemala study explain: "Reproduction involves the investment of energetic resources and increased health risks which may lead to lower investment in somatic effort. In humans and other cooperative-breading species, however, pregnancy and offspring rearing may attract higher social support resulting in a net energetic gain, which in turn may slow down the aging process."

Obviously, more science needs to be done on the impact of pregnancy and motherhood on telomeres and aging. Like so much of parenthood, your mileage may vary.

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