Good news moms – despite what you’ve heard, research has found that having more children may actually slow down women’s ageing process.

If you’ve probably heard that having more kids will give you grey hair. A Simon Fraser University study, however, has found the opposite.

Led by health sciences professor Pablo Nepomnaschy and postdoctoral researcher Cindy Barha, the study found that women who give birth to more surviving children exhibited longer telomeres.

What are telomeres and why do they matter?

Telomeres are the protective tips found at the end of each DNA strand that is indicative of cellular ageing. Longer telomeres are integral to cell replication and are associated with longevity.

The study spanned 13 years

The study assessed the number of children born to 75 women from two neighbouring indigenous rural Guatemalan communities and their telomere lengths.

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The participants’ telomere lengths were measured at two time points 13 years apart, through salivary specimens and buccal swabs. This is the first study to examine the direct association between the number of children and telomere shortening in humans over time.

According to Nepomnaschy, the study findings contradict life history theory which predicts that producing a higher number of offspring accelerates the pace of biological ageing.

“The slower pace of telomere shortening found in the study participants who have more children, however, may be attributed to the dramatic increase in oestrogen, a hormone produced during pregnancy,” says Nepomnaschy who also spearheads the Maternal and Child Health Laboratory at the SFU Faculty of Health Sciences. “Oestrogen functions as a potent antioxidant that protects cells against telomere shortening.”

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Thanks to friends and oestrogen

The social environment in which the study participants live may also influence the relationship between their reproductive efforts and the pace of ageing.

“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,” explains Nepomnaschy. “Greater support leads to an increase in the amount of metabolic energy that can be allocated to tissue maintenance, thereby slowing down the process of ageing.”

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Source: Simon Fraser University via

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