Normal wear and tear occurs the longer and the more frequent one piece of item is used -- say, a mobile phone, or a car. A vehicle that has run many a kilometers certainly wouldn't be in as good a condition as an unused one. In the same way, one would think that the human body may be more prone to sickness or is weaker after subjecting it to events such as childbirth, but new research suggests that this may not be the case. In fact, having a big family could actually slow your aging.
The study, from the Simon Fraser University in Canada, found that indigenous Guatemalan women who had high fertility rates, and those who had more children, had evidence of slower aging compared to those with fewer children.
The researchers used telomeres, found in chromosomes, as an indicator of the aging process. As explained by Pablo A. Nepomnaschy, PhD, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor at Simon Fraser University, to Yahoo Parenting, telomeres protect chromosomes; so as cells age, the telomere gets shorter and shorter. Thus, a longer telomere may indicate long life.
The study, spanning 13 years, involved obtaining DNA samples from 75 Guatemalan women to analyze their individual telomere, which more or less maintain the same length throughout all the cells in the body. Results showed that the more children the women had, the longer their telomere; which would mean a slower aging process.
Nepomnaschy and his colleagues speculate that this is due to the social support the women get after childbirth. “In this population of Guatemalan women where high fertility is highly valued, it’s possible that those who have more kids are receiving a lot more support from their families and peers,” he told Yahoo Parenting.
“They live in extended family groups, and everybody helps each other. If that’s the case, the women will have more energy to invest in maintaining themselves,” he added.
Another reason may have to do with elevated hormones during pregnancy. Women have high estrogen levels during pregnancy. Estrogen protects cells from oxidative stress which ages cells, according to Nepomnaschy. “Perhaps the more times you go through pregnancy, the more time you — and your cells — spend protected,” he said.
However, all this doesn’t mean you should hastily decide to have more children. “There are so many other factors that go into [longevity] and how cells age, including exposure to oxidative stress and toxins,” he said.
“Future research should explore the potential role of social support”, said the study, as well as estrogen “in the trade-offs between reproductive effort and the pace of cellular aging.”
Sources: Jan. 12, 2015. "Why Having More Kids Slows Down the Aging Process". yahoo.com Jan. 11, 2015. "Want to stay younger for longer? Have MORE children! Women with more offspring 'have longer telomeres - a sign of longevity'". dailymail.co.uk