Giving birth ‘ages a woman by 11 years’

Women who have given birth have shorter telomeres, according to a recent study by George Mason University researchers in their Department of Global and Community Health.

Telomeres are the end caps of DNA on our chromosomes, which help in DNA replication and get shorter over time. The length of telomeres has been associated with morbidity and mortality previously, but this is the first study to examine links with having children.

In the study, which has been published in Human Reproduction, the authors report that telomeres among women who had children were the equivalent of 11 years shorter. This was a larger change than has been reported by other research groups for smoking or obesity.

Dr. Anna Pollack, the study’s lead autho, said: ‘With cross-sectional data, 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. Additional factors to consider include stress and social support, as well as whether similar findings are seen in men. These findings are preliminary and should be confirmed with prospective studies.’

The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is a nationally representative study in the United States.