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Having More Kids Slows Down Aging? It Sounds Like an April's Fools Prank!
  • Having more kids slows down aging. That sounds like a joke, right? Many moms (with one or five kids alike) will probably chuckle in disbelief. It doesn't make a lot of sense if you think about what childbirth, sleeplessness, multi-tasking, and the constant worrying can do to a mom's health. But, back in 2016 and physical appearance aside, a study had shown that motherhood could be the fountain of youth.

    A 2016 study from Simon Fraser University in Canada claimed that the more surviving kids you have, the longer you'll live. The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, had only 75 participants from two neighboring indigenous rural Guatemalan communities. The researchers analyzed the number of kids the women have against the measurement of their DNA's telomeres (more on this in a bit) in 13 years.  The results showed that women who had more kids slowed down the shrinking of their DNA's telomeres.

    A telomere is a compound structure at the end of a chromosome, the protective tip at the end of each person's DNA strand so to speak. Telomeres indicate cellular aging. The longer the DNA's telomeres, the better that person's cells replicate, which is associated with longer life.

    2018 study published in Scientific Reports, however, disproved this. Researchers from Northwestern University, in the U.S., analyzed the telomeres and epigenetic age of 821 Filipino women between ages 20 to 22 who had various reproductive issues. The results showed that women who had more pregnancies were "older" even after taking into account other factors that affect cellular aging.


    The findings also suggested having one child could actually age a mom's cells by at least six months up to two years. The researchers were surprised nonetheless that their research turned up a much higher figure than what they expected pregnancy and motherhood would add to a mother's already aging cells.

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    Pablo Nepomnaschy, Ph.D., professor and head the Maternal and Child Health Laboratory at the SFU Faculty of Health Sciences, suggested two possible explanations why the 2016 study's findings indicated more kids slowed a mom's aging. 

    Estrogen is an antioxidant that helps with tissue repair

    First, the slower pace of telomere shortening in a woman who has more kids may have been the effect of the dramatic increase in the hormone estrogen during pregnancy. "Estrogen functions as a potent antioxidant that protects cells against telomere shortening," Nepomnaschy said in a press release.

    The 2018 study backed this up. "If a woman was pregnant when the measurements were taken, her epigenetic age, and to a lesser extent her telomeres, looked ‘younger’ than predicted for her chronological age," noted Christopher Kuzawa, Ph.D., senior author of the study and a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, in a press statement.

    It really takes a village to raise a child so moms can have time for self-care

    Second, moms in the 2016 study received enormous support from their family, friends, and community. "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," Nepomnaschy added.

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    The Guatemalan moms take the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" seriously. While the Filipinos have a similar culture about raising kids, the women in the 2018 study who were from Cebu had limited energy as their physical workloads were frequently high, which had a considerable impact on their cellular age.

    Having more children, especially more than four, can increase the risk of certain diseases and shorten a mom's lifespan, but researchers still don’t know why. Kuzawa only suggested that the cellular changes during pregnancy which may be related to adaptive changes in the mother’s immune system.

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    Pregnancy and childbirth is different for every woman

    We don't really need a study to tell us the toll that pregnancy and childbirth take our overall wellness. Childbirth in itself is always a 50-50 chance of survival. Then we need to prepare for at least six years of disrupted sleep, which may be a factor for developing postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

    You also need to give your body at least a year and a half to heal from pregnancy and childbirth, more so if you deliver your baby via C-section. Equally important is to make sure everyone, especially your partner is 100-percent on board with having more kids, which also offers advantages for the whole family.

    We're on board with any news that lets us know that we will live long enough to make lots of happy memories with our family. And it's how we should look at the so-called aging: we take care of ourselves to live longer to witness our kids grow up.

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