A new study finds “older” mothers live longer—to 95+. But, what exactly is “older?” In terms of maternal longevity, the definition of “older” just got younger. Six years ago I reported on The New England Centenarian Study that found women who give birth after age 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 or longer than were women who gave birth at younger ages.
That was really good news since the number of women having babies after 40 had almost quadrupled at that time. It was also welcomed news for many because women are marrying later and therefore, starting their families later. It was equally encouraging for women who wanted to become financially sound and establish themselves in jobs before having babies.
The good news just got better.
“Older” Mothers are Now Younger
New research out of the Boston University School of Medicine and part of the Long Life Study confirms the New England’s Centenarian study finding and lowers the age to women having babies after 33. These younger, older mothers have almost the same possible longevity to look forward to.
The new investigation, “Extended maternal age at birth of last child and women's longevity in the Long Life Family Study,” reported in Menopause Journal, was based on data from the Long Life Family Study. Researchers looked at the ages of 462 women who had their last child after the age of 33. Researchers found that women who were able to have their last child after age 33 are likely to live to 95. In fact, they have twice the chance to live to 95 or older than those who had their last child before their 30th birthday. This discovery parallels the earlier research on mother’s age when giving birth and longevity.
Child Birth as a Genetic Longevity Measure
In a 2012 study, Genetic Signatures of Exceptional Longevity in Humans, the researchers “found 281 genetic markers that are 61% accurate in predicting who is 100 years old, 73% accurate in predicting who is 102 years old or older and 85% accurate in predicting who is 105 years old or older. In other words the prediction gets better with older and older ages beyond 100 which goes along with our hypothesis that the genetic component of exceptional longevity gets greater and greater with older and older age.”
The “Extended maternal age…” studybuilds on that finding by looking at the age a woman gave birth to her last child as a measure of aging. A 2009 study, for example, “Familial aggregation of survival and late female reproduction” supports “the hypothesis that late female fertility and slow somatic aging may be promoted by the same genetic variants.” The researchers feel that the genetic aspect of their findings raises the possibility and provides “a clue as to why 85 percent of women live to 100 or more years while only 15 percent of men do.”
Says Thomas Perls, MD, a professor of medicine specializing in geriatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and one of the authors of the new study, “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.”
“This does not mean women should wait to have children at older ages in order to improve their own chances of living longer,” he noted. Dr. Perls and colleagues are currently investigating the link between menopause and longevity.
Given the pressure on women to find jobs and establish careers before becoming mothers or adding to their families, the findings do remove a modicum of pressure to hurry into motherhood or having your last child when you don’t feel ready…with the added bonus of maybe living longer.
Sebastiani P, Solovieff N, DeWan AT, Walsh KM, Puca A, et al. (2012) “Genetic Signatures of Exceptional Longevity in Humans.” PLoS ONE 7(1): e29848. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029848 http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0029848
Smith, Ken R., Gagnon, Alain et al. (2009) “Familial Aggregation of Survival and Late Female Reproduction.” The Journals of Gerontology 64A(7): 740–744. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glp055 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2691800/
Sun, Fangui; Sebastiani, Paola; Schupf, Nicole; Bae, Harold; Andersen, Stacy L.; McIntosh, Avery; Abel, Haley; Elo, Irma T.; Perls, Thomas T. (2014) 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 Society (Publication date: January, 2015). http://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/Abstract/publishahead/Extended_maternal_age_at_birth_of_last_child_and.98366.aspx
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