Motherhood is a very stressful and tiring experience especially in the first few months of an infant's life. A new research, however, suggests that when mothers have more kids, the aging process slows down. Is this the solution to women's aging fears?
A new study by Canadian researchers from Simon Fraser University suggests that the number of kids born to a woman impacts the rate at which her body ages. Published in the journal PLOS One, researchers have revealed that women with more children had longer telomeres than those who had fewer kids.
Telomeres are important parts of human cells that influence how cells age. These are caps at the end of each DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) strand that work by protecting the chromosomes. Chromosomes are thread-like structures that contain all genetic information.
When cells replicate, telomeres become shorter until such time that they become so small and unable to protect the chromosomes. This may lead to the chromosomes becoming susceptible to damage that causes the cells to age and function ineffectively.
In the study, the team enrolled 75 Kaqchikel Mayan women from neighboring indigenous rural communities in Guatemala. Their telomere lengths and number of children were assessed in the 13-year period study.
At the start of the study, the lengths of telomeres were measured through salivary samples. 13 years after, these were again measured but now through buccal swabs.
They found that women with more children had longer telomeres than those who had only few. Each additional child born was associated to about 0.059 more telomere units.
This is the first research study to examine the direct link between telomere length in humans and the number of kids a woman had.
"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 of Simon Fraser University said in a news release.
The researchers speculate that estrogen – the female hormone that increases during pregnancy – has something to do with lengthening of telomeres thus slowing down the aging process.
Nepomnaschy added that estrogen, a maternal hormone, functions as a "potent antioxidant" that helps protect cells from certain damages and shortening of telomeres.
The researchers also suggest that social environment may play a major role in the anti-aging effects of having more children. They noted that women in the study with more children had more support not only from their family members, but also from their friends.
More support increases the amount of metabolic energy that can be used for maintenance of body tissues, which may lead to a decreased pace of the aging process.
Though the study offers new insight in the topic of aging, it's still a very complex process in which researchers have many more things to learn about.
"Future research should explore the potential role of social support as well as that of estradiol and other potential biological pathways in the trade-offs between reproductive effort and the pace of cellular aging within and among human as well as in non-human populations," the researchers wrote in the study.
Photo: Simon Fraser University | Flickr