Pregnancy increases biological age, but giving birth changes it | Trending Viral hub

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Pregnancy increases biological age, but giving birth changes it

Having a baby creates some of the same epigenetic patterns in DNA seen in older people

Midsection of a woman with hands holding baby's back and foot.

Giving birth shifts a person’s DNA markings toward a more youthful state, but this trend is less noticeable in new biological parents with obesity.

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Józef Polc/Getty Images

Aches and pains aren’t all that the pregnancy share with aging. Preparing a baby causes changes in the distribution of certain chemical markers in a pregnant person’s DNA, changes similar to those that occur hallmark of growing older. But new research shows that several months after a person gives birth, chemical patterns return to an earlier state.1. The results reinforce previous work in mice and preliminary results in humans.2.

It’s not surprising that pregnancy took its toll, but the reversal was “somewhat unexpected,” says perinatal health specialist Kieran O’Donnell of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, a co-author of the study. It was published on March 22 in Cellular metabolism.

aged DNA


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The chemical tags analyzed in the study are called methyl groups and are added to DNA in a process called methylation. They are an example of the ‘epigenome‘, DNA characteristics that change genetic activity without altering the genetic code.

DNA methylation patterns can be used to estimate a person’s fitness.biological age‘, which reflects the physiological stress that a person’s body has accumulated over time. Some research has found that biological age is a better predictor of health problems such as cardiovascular disease.3 and dementia4 than the chronological age of a person.

But unlike chronological age, “biological age is quite flexible; It is a fluid parameter. It can go up and down,” says biomedical scientist Vadim Gladyshev of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Last year, his team published a study in Cellular metabolism2 who observed a decrease in biological age after pregnancy in mice and suggested that there might be a similar effect in humans. Cessation of several other stressful conditions also reversed biological age.

The effect of obesity

The latest study confirmed Gladyshev and colleagues’ results in humans and also showed that not all people recover from pregnancy to the same degree. People who were on the cusp of obesity before pregnancy lost fewer years of biological age in the three months after birth than people who had a body weight classified as “normal,” O’Donnell and his colleagues found. Meanwhile, people who breastfed exclusively experienced a greater reduction in biological age than those who used formula or a mixture of formula and breast milk.

The biological ages of some participants were a few years younger after giving birth than at the beginning of pregnancy. That’s “something that caught my attention,” says aging biologist Yousin Suh of Columbia University in New York, who was not involved in the work.

The researchers did not measure the biological age of the participants before pregnancy, so “we cannot say that this is a rejuvenation effect,” says O’Donnell. But the data is suggestive and he would like to follow up with participants in the future.

It’s nothing to worry about

Some researchers say interpreting Gladyshev and O’Donnell’s findings is complicated. Methylation clearly changes during pregnancy, but “we would be wrong to assume that pregnancy is a state of accelerated aging,” says Dena Dubal, a physician-scientist and aging specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. Dubal believes that methylation may not be a hallmark of aging in the case of pregnancy, but rather may underlie some of the radical changes the body must undergo to support a growing fetus, such as altered gene expression.

Suh isn’t so sure. “Methylation is, so far, one of the strongest markers of biological age,” he says.

Whether a reversible state can really be called “age” is “a really important point,” O’Donnell says. “Perhaps as we begin to focus on pregnancy as a new area of ​​aging research, perhaps new terms and terminology will need to be developed.”

In the end, people should not worry about any pregnancy-related increases in their biological age, scientists say. “We are talking about changes of about two or three years,” says Gladyshev.

And Dubal points out that pregnancy should not be conceptualized as a biological problem, even for people who do not maximize recovery through breastfeeding. “While the benefits of breastfeeding are many, its absence is not a dangerous situation,” she says.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published March 22, 2024.

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