Guatemalan moms with more children live longer: Here's why

This past weekend, the world was introduced to its newest oldest living person.

Crowned by Guinness World Records, Kane Tanaka is 116 years old, lives in an assisted living facility in Fukuoka, Japan, and her hobbies include studying mathematics and playing the popular board game Othello. 

The record holder credits sweets, coffee, carbonated drinks and a robust appetite as key to her longevity, but according to one study by Canada's Simon Fraser University, Kane's long life can be credited to none other than motherhood. 

The 13-year-long study looked at 75 indigenous women from Kaqchikel Mayan communities based in rural Guatemala. 

Using DNA samples collected from each woman, first in 2000 and then later in 2013, researchers found that at a molecular level, the more children a woman had birthed and raised, the less cellular ageing had been observed. 

It's the first study of its kind to investigate the number of children a woman has in relation to her telomeres – protective structures used to measure cellular ageing in DNA – which were found to be longer (indicative of longevity) in women with more children. 


Also see: You’re not “just a mom”: Motherhood is like working 2.5 jobs – fact

Do you think you've gotten younger or older since becoming a mom? Share your thoughts with us, and we could publish your letter. Anonymous contributions are welcome.


Estrogen wins

Given what we know about the exhaustive nature of parenting, it seems hard to believe that the more children, the less the body ages but according to lead researcher Professor Pablo Nepomnaschy, it's all down to hormones. 

"The slower pace of telomere shortening found in the study participants who have more children ... may be attributed to the dramatic increase in estrogen, a hormone produced during pregnancy... [which] functions as a potent antioxidant that protects cells against telomere shortening.”

Despite the reasonable explanation, Professor Pablo does admit that the experience of motherhood in rural areas like that of the Kaqchikel Mayan women does influence their data, pinpointing their more efficient support network of family and friends as a top reason for their findings.  

“The women we followed over the course of the study were from natural fertility populations where mothers who bear numerous children receive more social support from their relatives and friends,” noted the Professor. “Greater support could lead to an increase in the amount of metabolic energy that can be allocated to tissue maintenance, thereby slowing down the process of cellular ageing.”

So maybe, it's not so much the number of children, but the amount of support received? 

Here's to widening our circles of support, mommies, the length of our lives depend on them!

Chat back:

Do you think you've gotten younger or older since becoming a mom? Share your thoughts with us, and we could publish your letter. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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