Childbirth is known for wreaking havoc on a woman’s body. But, new research says that having a baby may also have an adverse effect on longevity—at a cellular level.
A new study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, discovered that childbirth shortens telomeres in women, making their genetic material (associated with lifespan) appear 11 years older than women who did NOT have any children. The study was conducted at George Mason University.
What are Telomeres?
Telomeres are the end caps of our DNA on the chromosomes. They have been likened to the plastic covers located at the end of shoelaces. If the covers come off, the string fibers that make up the laces, begin to fray and can no longer do their job as well—and so too do the strands of DNA which are held in place by telomeres. Essentially, the telomeres stabilize the DNA molecules.
Every time a cell copies itself (a process called replication) the telomeres become shorter. As we age the telomeres become too short to function effectively. This results in aging of the cell, and as the cell ages, it can no longer do its job well.
Therefore, telomeres are considered an indicator of a person’s biological clock. “If the telomeres are completely gone, the cell wouldn’t be able to replicate at all,” George Mason University researcher, Anna Pollack, explained to Newsweek.
Women’s Telomeres after Childbirth
A recent study discovered that women who gave birth had shorter telomeres that appeared 11 years older than those who had not given birth to a child.
It’s not that the women who have kids are necessarily all dying 11 years earlier than those without children; other factors are involved. Smoking, increase stressed, obesity, and other factors which may be linked to the stress of raising kids, could be the culprits. Many other factors can impact a woman’s telomeres.
More is Less
Women in the study, who never had kids, were found to have lost 10 base pairs of DNA every year. Comparatively, the women who had given childbirth were found to have 116 less pairs of DNA than the control group (those who did not have any children).
“We found that women who had five or more children had even shorter telomeres compared to those who had none, and relatively shorter compared to those who had one, two, three or four, even,” Pollack said.
While studies on telomeres, being linked to health and longevity are common, this is the first ever study to examine the impact of childbirth on a woman’s telomeres.
“We can’t tell if having children is related to shortening of telomeres or merely whether women who have children start out with shorter telomeres,” said Pollack.
“Additional factors to consider include stress and social support, as well as whether similar findings are seen in men,” Pollack said.
Pollack explained that these study findings are preliminary and that more research is needed to confirm the scientists’ findings.