Remember that old chestnut about the old woman who lived in a shoe? You know, the one with so many kids, she didn't know what to do? Well, there's probably a reason why she was old, or at least looked that way.
Recent studies that took place at Northwestern University found a link between multiple pregnancies and accelerated aging. The results, published earlier this week in Scientific Reports, were based on observations of Filipino women who had different backgrounds regarding the number of pregnancies. They then looked at their various reproductive histories and examined two components in cells, namely "epigenetic ae" and "telomere length".
They found that cells aged faster by as much as 2 years for each pregnancy. But what threw them off was that women pregnant during the study actually had younger cells. However, the younger the cells looked, that factor was mitigated by the cumulative effect of multiple pregnancies. After delivery, the cells reverted back to having properties consistent with aging cells, which accelerated even more after multiple pregnancies.
Those discoveries remained consistent, even when other factors affecting cellular aging were ruled out after further testing. The results were striking, especially given that the study deliberately tested young women. All of them were between the ages of 20 and 22.
"Paradoxically, even though a woman's biological age was higher with each child that she had, 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," said Christopher Kuzawa, one of the study's main organizers.
"It's an interesting situation in which pregnancy makes someone look temporarily 'young,' but there appears to be some lasting, cumulative relationship between the number of pregnancies and more accelerated biological age."
The study didn't look at aging for the sake of vanity reasons. People who tend to age earlier do run the risk of getting a number of diseases and not living as long as their younger-looking counterparts. Research based on the results has sparked further questions on whether a mother's immune system is affected in any way by changes in her cells during pregnancy and additional pregnancies down the road.
Right now, research doesn't have the answers to more long-term questions. But they will do follow-up studies on those same subjects. Also under consideration will be the effect of other influences like diet, lifestyle and socioeconomic status.
Now, perhaps research can explain why there's a tendency for aging women with a large brood tend to live in shoes. We'll wait with bated breath for results on that one.
What are your thoughts on this study? Share your own experiences with multiple pregnancies and aging in the comments!