The more babies you have, the longer you'll live: SFU study

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If you’re a woman, having children might be the key to a longer life.

A new study from SFU suggests the number of children a woman has might slow down the rate at which her body ages – and the more babies she has, the better. Having multiple children is associated with longer telomeres in mothers, which are the tips found at the end of each DNA strand.

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Telomeres are indicative of cellular aging, and longer ones are associated with longevity.

SFU Health Sciences professor Pablo Nepomnaschy said their findings contradict the age-old theory that having more children speeds up the aging process.

“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.”

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

The study assessed the number of children born to 75 women in rural Guatemalan communities and their telomere lengths. At 13-year intervals, saliva samples and cheek swabs were taken to examine their telomere lengths. This is the first study to examine an association with the number of surviving children and telomere length.

But it might not be strictly biological in nature – environment might also be a factor in the longevity of women with multiple children.

“The women we followed over the course of the study were from natural fertility populations where mothers who bear numerous children receive more social support from their relatives and friends,” said Nepomnaschy.

“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.”

The study by co-authors Nepomnaschy and postdoctoral researcher Cindy Barha is published in Plos One.

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Lauren Sundstrom Lauren is a Staff Writer and Projects Assistant at Vancity Buzz. She is a graduate of BCIT's Broadcast and Online Journalism program. She loves reporting on breaking news and lifestyle content. If you feel like you have a story that needs to be told, fire her a tweet.
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