Pregnancy ages you, but giving birth might reverse it: New study

Pregnancy ages you, but giving birth might reverse it: New study

Pregnancy ages you, but giving birth might reverse it: New study

Pregnancy is an incredible and beautiful feat of human biology. A woman’s body undergoes significant transformations to support a developing fetus, preparing for the ultimate test of endurance – childbirth. However, new research suggests this intense physiological process could also impact a woman’s biological age.



The cellular journey of pregnancy

Recent studies suggest that pregnancy may temporarily ‘age’ cells by as much as two years. This acceleration of biological aging is thought to be linked to the tremendous stress endured by the body during pregnancy, mirroring changes seen in typical aging processes. 

During this time, scientists have observed shifts in epigenetic markers, which are chemical tags that influence how our genes function, as Science.org reports

A team from Harvard Medical School, headed by Dr. Vadim Gladyshev, investigated epigenetic modifications in pregnant women. These modifications are chemical changes that influence gene activity without altering the DNA code itself.

These changes track our ‘biological age,’ which measures cellular wear and tear, offering clues about our vulnerability to future illnesses.

Intriguingly, some of this cellular aging appears to reverse in the months after giving birth, although not uniformly for everyone. While this was somewhat anticipated, the extent of potential ‘rejuvenation’ was surprising to researchers.

While unclear if this shift represents true “rejuvenation”, O’Donnell notes the potential remains for future studies to investigate the link between this observed change and long-term health outcomes and life span.

Interesting parallel findings

Research suggests that biological aging isn’t always linear, a fact that surprised Kieran O’Donnell, a perinatal researcher at Yale School of Medicine. This realization aligns with his own team’s findings alongside a parallel Harvard study investigating pregnancy’s effect on biological age.

In contrast to the smaller Harvard study, O’Donnell’s team analyzed blood samples from 119 people throughout and after pregnancy, offering the chance to confirm and expand upon the earlier work.

O’Donnell’s team also examined epigenetic modification, specifically DNA methylation. This process adds methyl groups to genes, altering their expression. Since these changes naturally accumulate with age, variations can signify accelerated or slowed tissue aging.

Indeed, early, mid, and late pregnancy blood samples showed higher levels of biological wear and tear than expected. The DNA methylation patterns indicated the participants’ biological ages were 1-2 years greater than their actual chronological ages. This suggests pregnancy stress may temporarily accelerate biological aging.

Remarkably, the trend reversed in the 68 participants sampled three months after giving birth. Their biological ages now appeared 3-8 years younger than during early pregnancy, with variations based on algorithms used. This effect was slightly less pronounced in those with higher pre-pregnancy weight but greater in exclusively breastfeeding women.

A complex picture – Factors that matter

Experts emphasize that the findings, published in the journal Cell Metabolism should not be interpreted as pregnancy being universally ‘bad’ for aging. Several factors seem to influence how much, and if, biological age bounces back:

Pre-pregnancy Body Weight: Women who were at the higher end of healthy body weight before pregnancy may see a less pronounced reversal of cellular aging after giving birth.

Also, exclusive breastfeeding is linked to a more significant reduction in biological age compared to bottle-feeding or a mixed approach. It’s unknown whether temporary aging during pregnancy has any tangible impact on later-life health risks or overall lifespan.

What Does It All Mean?

Researchers are still working to unravel the complex web of connections between pregnancy and aging. While scientists caution this doesn’t mean your life expectancy changes, these discoveries highlight a few key takeaways:

It’s no secret that pregnancy is physically demanding. This research underscores that the changes go beyond the obvious, impacting processes at the cellular level.

The findings hint that a degree of biological aging during pregnancy may not be permanent for some. Further research is needed to determine if a true ‘rejuvenation effect’ exists and what drives it.

Pregnancy doesn’t affect everyone the same way, and the impact on aging may vary based on pre-pregnancy health and postpartum choices.

Focusing on maternal health: A call to action

This area of research is essential for improving maternal health outcomes. Scientists hope to pinpoint women potentially at higher risk of future health complications linked to the aging effects of pregnancy. This knowledge could lead to tailored interventions to ensure the health and well-being of mothers for years to come.

Dr. Kieran O’Donnell reminds us that it’s not about placing blame or pressure on mothers. “We need to not put such emphasis on the individual,” he argues.  

Instead, the focus must be on advocating for better support, funding for maternal health research, and policies designed to prioritize the health of mothers before, during, and well after pregnancy. It’s about ensuring a healthy future for generations to come.

Source: Interesting Engineering

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Pregnancy ages you, but giving birth might reverse it: New study/Pregnancy ages you, but giving birth might reverse it: New study

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