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Older mothers live longer, says study

30 June 2014
Appeared in BioNews 760

A recent study has shown that mothers who have children at the age of 33 or after are twice as likely to live longer than women who stop childbearing by the age of 29.

The Long Life Family Study, a collaborative project sponsored by the US National Institute on Aging, looked at 551 families in Denmark and the US states of Boston, New York and Pittsburgh, with family members who had lived to an exceptional age.

A paper published in Menopause, the journal of North American Menopause Society, revealed data from 462 women which showed that top five percentile of childbearing age were two times more likely to live to 95 years or older.

Thomas Perls, co-author of the paper and professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) , USA, explained that apparent genetic variants that help enable women to have babies by natural means at a later age may also be associated with longevity.

'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', Professor Perls said.

The results observed by Professor Perls' team are consistent with previous smaller studies that observed a similar relationship between maternal age at the birth of their last child and extraordinary longevity. The New England Centenarian Study (NECS) at BUSM found that women who gave birth to a child after the age of 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than women who had their last child at a younger age.

'Of course this does not mean women should wait to have children at an older age in order to improve their own chances of living longer', Professor Perls said. Increased maternal age is also associated with an increased rate of chromosomal translocation in the egg.

The reproductive system can be an indicator of overall heath, Professor Perls explained. 'The age at last childbirth can be a rate of aging indicator', he said. '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'.

The data observed in this study and others may indicate a link between reproductive fitness and the risk of age-related diseases. '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 disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer', said Professor Perls.

The study authors believe the findings may also provide an explanation for why women generally live longer than men. 'If a woman has those variants, she is able to reproduce and bear children for a longer period of time, increasing her chances of passing down those genes to the next generation', said Professor Perls, who is also the director NECS.

'This possibility may be a clue as to why 85 percent of women live to 100 or more years while only 15 percent of men do', he said, highlighting that more focused research is still required to investigate this.

Extended maternal age at birth of last child and women's longevity in the Long Life Family Study
Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Soceity |  23 June 2014
Older moms may have genes for longevity
The Washington Post |  25 June 2014
Older moms much more likely to become old ladies, study says
Los Angeles Times |  25 June 2014
Older Mothers Tend To Live Longer, Study Finds
Time |  25 June 2014
Reproduction later in life is a marker for longevity in women
EurekAlert! (press release) |  25 June 2014
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