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Surprising Study Finds More Kids Means Slower Aging

Photograph by Twenty20

Haven't you heard? Kids make you old.

Actually, they don't! It just feels that way.

A new study challenges the long-held theory that gestating and birthing kids saps women of their youth. And that the more kids each woman has, the more life-sustaining stuff gets sapped, thereby accelerating the aging process.

Instead, what researchers from Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia found was evidence of the opposite effect—that women who have children age more slowly than those who had never been pregnant and given birth. In fact, the more children a women had, their study found, the more slowly a woman aged.

The fountain of youth has been found—and the elixir is the younger version of you!

The 13-year study, published in PLOS One, followed 75 Kaqchikel Maya women who lived in rural villages in southwest Guatemala, according to an article on the findings in The Atlantic. The women studied tended to marry within their community and live similar lifestyles, which allowed researchers to control for other factors.

Here's how they determined the anti-aging effects of giving birth. Researchers swabbed the cheeks of the study's participants 13 years ago and measured the length of their DNA's telomeres. Telomeres are like protective caps on the end of chromosomes, often compared to the little plastic thingies at the end of shoelaces. Each keeps the string they are attached to (in the telomeres' case, the chromosome) from getting frayed or wrecked in some way (i.e., aging effects!). Recently, the researchers went back and swabbed again.

Typically, and as plenty of previous studies have shown, telomeres shorten as organisms age. The thing about the telomeres of the Maya women was that in the span of a little over a decade, the telomeres of the women with more kids were longer than those of the women with fewer kids. Researchers had expected to find the opposite.

For fish, birds and other animals, studies have shown shorter telomeres for the prodigious breeders. So why would humans have evolved differently?

No one knows but the studies authors offer the idea that, since child-rearing has historically been a communal endeavor, the more kids you give birth to the more help you get. (We didn't say this theory was based on the true life of the American mother.)

"More children may lead to greater support, which in turn may lead to an increase in the amount of metabolic energy that can be allocated to tissue maintenance, thereby slowing the process of cellular aging," the researchers write.

Better skin and possibly a longer life? What else do U.S. policy makers need as motivation for more structural support in terms of living wages, paid maternity leave, excellent and subsidized childcare options, and closed gaps of every kind?

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