pregnancy and longevity
June 26, 2014

Older Mothers May Be Genetically Wired For Increased Longevity

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Having the biological capability to conceive children later in life could mean that a woman is more likely to live longer, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) claim in a new study.

Writing in the latest edition of Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society, the study authors explain that women who are able to have children after the age of 33 have a greater chance of living longer than those who last gave birth prior to the age of 30.

The BUSM researchers, along with colleagues from Boston Medical Center and other institutions, compared 311 women who lived to be at least 95 years of age and participated in the Long Life Family Study with 151 women who passed away at younger ages, said Deborah Kotz of the Boston Globe.

They found that those who had a child beyond the age of 33 had twice the odds of making it to the age of 95 compared to members of the control group who did not give birth beyond the age of 29, she added. The researchers believe that their work could indicate that women could be the catalyst behind the evolution of genetic variants responsible for slowing the aging process and decreasing the risk of age-related genes.

“We think the same genes that allow a woman to naturally have a kid at an older age are the same genes that play a really important role in slowing down the rate of aging and decreasing the risk for age-related diseases, such as heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and cancer,” principal investigator Thomas Perls, a professor at Boston University Medical Center and a specialist in geriatrics, told Washington Post reporter Lena H. Sun on Wednesday.

To illustrate his point, Perls referenced actress Halle Berry, who have birth to her second child at the age of 46. Perls believes that Berry has those genes, based on her appearance, how she believed she was going through menopause, and how she struggled to understand why she needed to change her dress size. However, as Kotz pointed out, people like Berry are the exception and not the rule, as fertility typically declines with age.

“Of course this does not mean women should wait to have children at older ages in order to improve their own chances of living longer,” said Perls, who was a corresponding author on the study. “The age at last childbirth can be a rate of aging indicator. The natural ability to have a child at an older age likely indicates that a woman's reproductive system is aging slowly, and therefore so is the rest of her body.”

If a woman possesses these genetic variants, she is capable of bearing children for longer periods of time, increasing the likelihood that she will pass those genes to the next generation, he added. This could help explain why 85 percent of females reach their 100th birthday while just 15 percent of males do. Moving forward, Perls and his colleagues intend to determine if experiencing natural menopause at an older age is also a marker for slower aging.

“That will more directly get to answers we’re looking for, which is finding genetic variants that these women all have in common to explain why they age more slowly,” he told Kotz. “If we can better understand the biological pathways that these genes govern, we might find drugs that do the same things as the genes.”