Pregnancy May Be The New Fountain Of Youth
A really interesting article in Fertility and Sterility this month suggests that pregnancy may have a rejuvenating effect on the mother. That is, pregnancy may cause the cells and tissues in women to regenerate and perform as they did in their youth!
We know that as we age, tissues lose their ability to regenerate as effectively as they do when we’re young – this is known to be true for all tissues of the body including muscle, nerve, brain, and organ tissue. Inherently, we also know that as we age we tend to ‘bounce back’ less quickly from injury or illness. This article suggests that pregnancy may be the new fountain of youth.
The interest in this regenerative potential of pregnancy stems from some recent research that shows when you transfuse blood of young mice into older ones, you see reversal of some of the aging effects. Basically, if you hook up the circulatory systems of an old mouse with a young mouse (a process called “heterochronic parabiosis”) you see an increased regenerative capacity in striated muscle of the older mouse, and increased cellular grown in aging liver cells. If you put muscle tissue from an older mouse into a younger mouse, the muscle successfully regenerates; and if you put muscle tissue from a young mouse into an older one, the tissue shows impaired regenerative ability. Since pregnancy is a unique situation where there is a partially shared blood system between a woman and a fetus, it makes sense that there may be some rejuvenating effects observed.
It turns out that researchers aren’t just pulling your leg – the process of being pregnant has demonstrated rejuvenating effects.
The Liver: a study on mice has shown that there is an effect of pregnancy on liver tissue regeneration. Researchers partially removed the liver in nonpregnant and pregnant young (3 months old) and old (12 months old) mice. In the nonpregnant groups, total liver volume regenerated 2 days after surgery to approximately 82% of original size in young mice; in the aged mice the liver returned to only 46%. But liver regneration in aged pregnant mice was incredibly more efficient – 96% of the liver volume restored within 2 days. Plus, in the aged mice, there was less blood clotting evident in the pregnant versus the nonpregnant groups – which increased their likelihood of surviving the partial liver removal.
The Central Nervous System: a large study done on pregnant women with multiple sclerosis (MS, a neuroinflammatory disease characterized by inflammation that targets the protective sheath over nerve cells) showed that during pregnancy and especially the third trimester, relapse rates are lower. Research has shown there are a lower number and smaller size of neural lesions in pregnant women with MS versus nonpregnant women. And in mice who’ve been experimentally induced to have an MS-like condition, the volume of a neural lesion was 52% smaller in pregnant mice versus matched nonpregnant controls. Pregnancy also improves paralysis symptoms in another mouse study.
The Heart: studies have shown that pregnancy protects against cardiac tissue ischemia (lack of blood flow), thus protecting the heart muscle from damage. There is current interest in placenta-derived factors that may be used for cardiac cell therapy.
The Lifespan: there is conflicting data on whether age of first pregnancy and total number of pregnancies has a positive or negative effect on a woman’s lifespan. However, the majority of the data that exist suggest that there is an extension of lifespan for women who have their children later in life. Which means that women who are of advanced maternal age that conceive and have babies past the age of 35 may actually live longer than those who start earlier.
The very cool thing to remember here is this – pregnancy is good for your body and may actually extend your life! During pregnancy, tissues heal and regenerate faster due to the partial connection between maternal and fetal blood. It may not be the true fountain of youth, but pregnancy certainly has some rejuvenating effects on the mother!
Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND