Motherhood can be mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing, but a new study out of George Mason University found that it can actually age you on a biological level. As ScienceAlert reports, women who had given birth showed signs of faster biological aging than women who hadn't—and the difference amounted to roughly 11 years.
To reach this conclusion, epidemiologist Anna Pollack and her team of researchers analyzed the DNA collected from roughly 2000 reproductive-age women in the U.S. in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They looked specifically at the length of the telomeres, which are chunks of DNA that cap the end of chromosomes to keep them from deteriorating. Stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, and aging all shorten telomeres, making you susceptible to degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and premature mortality, while longer telomeres prevent disease.
After adjusting for age, ethnicity, education, and lifestyle habits such as smoking, the women who had given birth to at least one child had telomeres that were 4.2% shorter on average than those who hadn't. This percentage is equivalent to roughly 11 years of accelerated cellular aging. "We were surprised to find such a striking result," admitted Pollack, who adds that past studies equated childbirth to just four and a half years of accelerated cellular aging. "We found that women who had five or more children had even shorter telomeres compared to those who had none, and relatively shorter relative to those who had one, two, three, or four, even."
Keep in mind that, due to the observational nature of the study, the researchers were only able to establish a correlation, as opposed to a causal effect. What's more, they further speculated that it isn't childbirth alone that shortens the telomeres but the stress of looking after and raising a child. It would be interesting to see if parenthood, in general, had a similar cellular effect on parents who didn't actually give birth to the children. "Given how little research has been conducted in this area, they advise their results should be treated with caution," concludes the publication.
Head over to ScienceAlert for more information.