Natural Anti-Aging Program | Health Blog

Date: 05/23/2009    Written by: Jon Barron

Having Babies Late in Life Tied to Longevity

Pregnancy, Longevity

It's commonly accepted that getting pregnant past age 40 incurs plenty of risk. Older women have a more difficult time conceiving and carrying a baby to term compared to younger women, plus they stand a greater chance of developing pregnancy-related complications of all sorts. The risk of having a Downs Syndrome baby, for instance, runs about one in 2000 when the mother is in her 20s, but that risk jumps dramatically to one in 30 when the mother is in her mid 40s; other birth defects also become far more likely with maternal age. Plus, older women run a much greater chance of developing pregnancy-related health problems themselves.

But anyone who looks askance at a pregnant middle-aged woman had better think twice, based on data from a new study of late-in-life pregnancies. The study, out of the University of Utah, found that women who give birth late in life live longer, and so do their brothers. (You read that correctly.) The wives of those brothers, though, live to a normal age, which scientists interpret to mean that genetics play a role in the phenomenon.

"If you have a female relative who had children after age 45, then there may be some genetic benefit in your family that will enhance your longevity," said study director Ken Smith.

The data for the study comes from a huge sample population of almost two million Mormon and Catholic individuals born between 1670 and1869. (Churches keep great records.) Because of the religious views of these groups, the researchers assumed that the subjects kept having children as long as fertility allowed, without using contraception. And what they found was significant: women who gave birth between ages 41 and 44 had a six- to seven-percent reduced chance of dying each year after age 50 compared to women who stopped having children earlier. Even more dramatically, those who had babies after age 45 showed a 14- to 17-percent reduced annual mortality risk. The men who had three sisters, one of whom gave birth late in life, had a 20- to 22-percent lower mortality rate.

The longevity benefit, researchers suspect, derives from the possibility that the same genes that control longevity also control fertility. This would mean that women who continue to be fertile into their late 40s and 50s have a genetic predisposition to live longer, which their brothers share. And yet the researchers assert that genetics probably play only a 25 percent role in the longevity factor. The key element, according to Dr. Smith, "could be something that is not inherited. It could be good nutrition or really good living, suggesting that if you are a healthier mom you live longer."

While it makes sense, based on the data, that genetics do play a key role in longevity, it also makes sense that those who share a lifestyle will share the health consequences and benefits derived from that lifestyle. (For example, as I've said many times before, lifestyle, not genetics, plays the dominant role in breast cancer.) Again, the husbands and wives in the study didn't necessarily show similar longevity patterns while siblings did, which may suggest that the siblings shared healthy diet and living during their formative years, and perhaps that counted most. Maybe certain subjects had a genetic advantage at birth, which combined with good nutrition and healthy conditions growing up helped them to remain fertile into middle age and live longer, while their siblings also reaped those same benefits.

This isn't the first study finding a link between longevity and late-life pregnancy. A 2002 study out of the University of California in Davis and the National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan found that women who have children at age 50 have a 38 percent reduction in mortality. A Chinese study found a positive correlation between late childbearing and survival past 100. Other studies have noted a link between late-onset menopause and longevity.

You can't tweak your genes, and research indicates that artificially extending fertility so you can have late-life babies won't help you to live longer, but you certainly can initiate routines that prolong your life. The necessity of good diet combined with exercise provides the baseline. Beyond that, since fertility and long life may be intertwined, there's good reason to initiate a natural hormone-balancing regimen. Other key factors include cleansing and detoxing regularly; supplementing with antioxidants, probiotics, enzymes, herbs, and food formed vitamins; cutting the amount of food you consume; and staying positive mentally and emotionally.

PS: I wonder if this study explains why the patriarch Abraham lived to 175. After all, Sarah, his wife and half sister, gave birth to their son Isaac when she was 90.



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    Submitted by Adam on
    May 23, 2009 - 10:13pm

    Yes that was actually very enlightening. I have one more question, if you have time, and that is this -
    Since we cannot change the underlying sequence of our genes, does that mean that lifestyle actually has no meaningful affect on the genetic makeup of our offspring? Does gene expression, in other words, affect the genetic makeup of our children?
    I know that is sort of a big question...but i'm just curious what your thoughts are on this subject in light of some things I have seen on the net lately.

    Submitted by Adam Miller on
    May 22, 2009 - 8:37pm

    Jon, you said at the end of this great entry that we can't tweak our genes, but isn't that precisely what we are doing as we live a healthy, informed lifestyle?
    I'm talking about epigenetics, as you probably know, and as someone who has read most of what you have published I should think that you would agree with me when I say that the way our genes express themselves depends more on our lifestyle than our initial blueprint at birth, or the ""genetic lottery"".
    So can't we 'tweak' our genes after all?

    Submitted by Adam Miller on
    May 25, 2009 - 8:01pm

    Eureka! So epigenetic factors, with time, can negatively affect later generations (pottenger), but not necessarily positively so...and the reason we feel positive benefits from eating a proper diet is simply because that is what we are genetically adapted to based on the fact that this is what our ancestors have always eaten.
    Those genes with a predisposition toward disease-causing behavior can be normalized in our own bodies through positive lifestyle adjustments (such as, perhaps, raw foods), but our underlying genetic code cannot actually become 'better.' Does that sound right?
    It's interesting how I learn more from your free website than I do from my college professors, who would have been become glass-eyed around the first time the word 'epigenetics' was used. :)
    Thanks again,

    Submitted by Jon Barron on
    May 23, 2009 - 3:39am

    I'm very familiar with epigenetics and wrote about the topic several years ago, before it became ""fashionable."" Understand, though, epigentics does not refer to any change in the gene itself or its DNA -- merely to how the gene expresses itself. And although, changing the expression of the gene can have significant implications on your health, those changes are by no means as long lasting as changes in the actual genes.
    Specifically, epigenetics refers to changes in phenotype (appearance) or gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence, hence the name epi- (Greek: over; above) -genetics. These changes may or may not remain through cell divisions for the remainder of the cell's life and, although in some cases, they may last for multiple generations. However, there is no change in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism; instead, non-genetic factors cause the organism's genes to behave (or ""express themselves"") differently.
    Hope that helps.

    Submitted by Jon Barron on
    May 26, 2009 - 2:45am

    It's all a question of odds. There's nothing that says that a change in genetic expression, or even a change in your underlying DNA can't give you super powers like the ability to become invisible or the ability to read minds. It's just that it's more of a longshot than having it express as compromised health. As for Pottenger's cats, 100% got negative results from eating a cooked diet. But that was a limited study. If you ran that test with a million cats, there's nothing that says that one of them in the second or third generation couldn't become Krazy Kat. It's just that the odds are against it.
    As they say in Vegas, ""Betting against the house is a bad bet.""

    Submitted by Jon Barron on
    May 24, 2009 - 2:31am


    Genes obviously can change over time -- even in one lifetime. Every time a cell replicates, there is a chance -- even likelihood -- that the genetic information will not replicate perfectly. And, of course, if you've seen the movie, The Hulk, you know how exposure to radiation can affect genetic information. But that's not really what you're talking about. You're referring to positive adaptation to changing environments such as might be encountered by improving diet.

    In that case, no. The evidence is that genetic adaptation takes generations.

    However, that said, do not underestimate the power of epigenetics to transform both your own personal health outcomes in a matter of weeks...and even those of your children and grandchildren. As I discuss in detail in Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, the effects of diet on Pottenger's cats lasted three generations. Makes you wonder if the Bible wasn't onto something when it says that the sins of the parents are visited upon the children ""even unto the third and fourth generation."" Perhaps it was talking about epigenetics -- or not. The key is that epigenetics doesn't tranform a species -- merely a few generations of it. But in truth, isn't that enough for most of us?

    Submitted by Mark on
    May 30, 2009 - 1:58pm

    Hello Jon,
    Thanks for the link to your informative concise summary of Pottenger's cat studies. I would sure appreciate any references or any other further information you have on these life extending rat studies you mentioned in that post:
    ""Studies done with laboratory rats have shown that rats eating raw foods live about 30% longer than rats eating diets devoid of enzymes,""
    Great newsletter, Jon, and I look forward to reading your new book!

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