Older moms may live longer

Study finds ma­ture moth­ers have some ad­van­tages

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - ONCE OVER - By Melissa Healy

AT­TEN­TION, women who were de­clared to be of “ad­vanced ma­ter­nal age” even as their bel­lies swelled with life, who chased af­ter a tod­dler with more pa­tience than vigour and who have si­mul­ta­ne­ously nav­i­gated menopause and par­ented an ado­les­cent: Late-life moth­er­ing — if it oc­curred nat­u­rally, at least — dou­bles your odds of liv­ing to an un­usu­ally old age, a new study has found.

Com­pared with a woman who wrapped up her child-bear­ing by the age of 29, a woman whose last child was born af­ter she reached the age of 33 was roughly twice as likely to sur­vive long enough to out­live 95 per cent of her fe­male peers born in the same year. Women who bore their last child be­tween the ages of 33 and 37 had the best shot at be­com­ing a longevity cham­pion. They were 2.08 times as likely to live to an ex­cep­tional age as moms who had no more chil­dren af­ter 29. Women whose last child came af­ter the age of 37 were 1.92 times as likely to live so long.

The lat­est re­search on mother­hood and sur­vival comes from a larger study of 4,875 people from 551 fam­i­lies in the United States (Bos­ton, New York and Pitts­burgh) and Den­mark. Be­tween 2006 and 2008 the Long Life Fam­ily Study, which set out to dis­cern what fac­tors pre­dicted ex­cep­tional longevity, en­rolled groups of sib­lings who had lived to ex­cep­tional ages. The off­spring of that long-lived gen­er­a­tion of par­tic­i­pants were also drawn into the study, and spouses served as a com­par­i­son group.

The women who sup­plied the data for the cur­rent study had all borne at least one child. The re­searchers com­pared the child-bear­ing his­to­ries of two groups. The first group was com­posed of 311 women from the Long Life Fam­ily Study who had sur­vived longer than 95 per cent of their fe­male peers; the com­par­i­son group was made up of 151 women who had lived to at least 70 years old but were not in the top five per cent of long-lived women.

The gen­er­a­tion ex­am­ined lived in a very dif­fer­ent world than women of child-bear­ing age do to­day, and one that more closely ap­prox­i­mates the cir­cum­stances of child-bear­ing since the dawn of hu­man evo­lu­tion. Con­tra­cep­tives were largely un­avail­able, and those that were, were crude and prone to fail­ure. The cur­rent trend of de­lay­ing child-bear­ing was not the so­cial norm. Treat­ments for in­fer­til­ity were few and rarely ef­fec­tive; it would be decades be­fore ba­bies could be con­ceived through in vitro fer­til­iza­tion.

In these cir­cum­stances, for women who were sex­u­ally ac­tive and healthy enough to be­come preg­nant and sus­tain a preg­nancy, ba­bies gen­er­ally came along.

So what, you ask, links the length of a woman’s child-bear­ing years and her like­li­hood of be­com­ing the old­est of old ladies? What doesn’t kill women makes them stronger? The kids need mom to stick around to make just one more sand­wich, to drive her grand­chil­dren to the mall or to dis­pense one more bit of ad­vice?

Maybe all of those things, sug­gest the au­thors of the study, which was pub­lished in Menopause, the jour­nal of the North Amer­i­can Menopause So­ci­ety. The lat­est re­search con­firms and ex­tends the find­ings of sev­eral other stud­ies. Col­lec­tively, their find­ings sug­gest ro­bust women — those likely to live long­est — may first man­i­fest their good health by re­main­ing fer­tile for sev­eral decades.

The re­search also points to some evo­lu­tion­ary ad­van­tage en­joyed by women ca­pa­ble of con­ceiv­ing and bear­ing chil­dren for longer stretches. In turn, her longevity af­ter her child-bear­ing years are over con­fers some evo­lu­tion­ary ben­e­fit to her off­spring and their chil­dren, since she is avail­able longer to sup­ple­ment her grand­chil­dren’s care.

The chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of a woman who re­pro­duces late and lives long reap the ben­e­fits of her har­di­ness, this the­ory goes. Twin stud­ies sug­gest genes ex­plain about 20 per cent of an in­di­vid­ual’s like­li­hood of liv­ing into his or her 80s, and en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors — in­clud­ing nu­tri­tion, preda­tors, tox­ins and pro­tec­tive elders — ex­plain the rest. A longlived grandma sup­plies larger broods, good genes and bet­ter care. She prac­ti­cally cre­ates the vil­lage that en­sures her longevity genes will be passed on.

— Los Angeles Times

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