Having more kids makes cells age slower, says SFU study

January 07, 2016

A woman having more children is likely to slow down her cells' aging process, says a recent, first-of-its-kind SFU study.

Health Sciences professor Pablo Nepomnaschy and postdoctoral researcher Cindy Barha examined rural populations of Guatemalan women who exhibited cellular signs of longevity.

Their findings contradict a previous theory that the lengths of telomeres shorten as children age, and that bearing children robs mothers of cellular energy.

Telomeres are the protective tips found at the end of each DNA strand, and indicate cellular aging. Longer telomeres are integral to cell replication and are associated with longevity. The study-group women with longer telomeres had more children.

Nepomnaschy says the findings contradict life-history theory, which predicts that producing more offspring accelerates biological aging.

“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,” he says.

“Estrogen functions as a potent antioxidant that protects cells against telomere shortening.”

Another reason for longer telomeres in women with more children may be found in the social systems of mothers’ communities.

They “receive more social support from their relatives and friends,” Nepomnaschy says.

“Greater support leads to an increase in the amount of metabolic energy that can be allocated to tissue maintenance, thereby slowing down the process of aging.”

However, the researchers emphasize aging is a complex process and we still have much to learn.