Giving Birth Alters Genetic Makeup, Accelerates Aging By 11 Years

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Giving birth to a child changes everything for a woman, and a new study indicates that mothers undergo accelerated cellular aging of as much as 11 years.

A team of researchers in Virginia’s George Mason University gathered data from 2,000 women in the United States who were of reproductive age. Through the information furnished by National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, they analyzed data between 1999 and 2002. They were specifically looking at telomeres as these are genetic markers can be a useful indicator of a person’s cellular age. While studying the data, researchers found a trend in women who already gave birth.

Telomeres Explained

Located at the end of the chromosome, telomeres act like caps since they protect the genetic data in the cells from deterioration. In theory, telomeres also protect chromosomes from harm.

Telomeres are useful because researchers can determine the cellular length of a person based on the length of the telomere. Short telomeres have been linked to heart issues, cancer, and cognitive problems.

The researchers chose the information from the survey because the length of telomeres was measured during the process. Elizabeth Blackburn, one of the people who discovered the telomeres and their role in protecting chromosomes, administered the telomere measurement for the survey. Blackburn along with two others received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009 for discovering how telomeres protect chromosomes and the enzyme that forms them, telomerase.

While the data has been around 20 years ago, the information about the telomeres has only been released recently. Hence, studies revealing the correlation between giving birth and cellular aging has just been discovered.

Data Implications

Pollack revealed what telomeres can say about the relationship between giving birth and aging.

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The data from the study reveals that every year, about 10 DNA base pairs are lost. At the end of the study, women who went through giving birth had 116 base pairs fewer. Giving birth to one child decreases telomere length by 4.2 percent, more children means shorter telomeres.

“We found that women who had five or more children had even shorter telomeres compared to those who had none, and relatively shorter relative to those who had one, two, three or four, even.”

While there is a direct correlation between telomere length and giving birth, this doesn’t mean that women with children are more likely to die early. As interpreted by Newsweek, this doesn’t indicate that women will lose 11 years of their life by giving birth. There are several factors affecting telomere length aside from giving birth and it includes stress, smoking, and weight.