“Two women could both be 35 and have a very different biological age if we look at them at a cellular level,” said one researcher
Age is just a number — but yours could be accelerating, at least on the inside.
Pregnant women who had low socioeconomic status as kids and now believe they have low support from their families may be aging faster, a new Ohio State University study suggests. Socioeconomic status was defined by these women’s self-reported social class and parents’ educational attainment.
The research, led by former OSU postdoc Amanda Mitchell and published this week in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, looked at the length of telomeres — protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes — in blood from 81 pregnant women. (Telomere shortening is indicative of biological or cell aging, senior study author Lisa Christian explained to Moneyish.)
“Childhood socioeconomic status and low perceived support from one’s family were predictive of shorter telomeres in these pregnant women, so they were showing greater biological aging,” Christian said. In practical terms, worn-down telomeres can put the body at heightened risk of age-related disease, Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn explained this year in the Guardian.
The researchers were unable to study pregnancy complications or birth outcomes due to a low sample size — but suggested it’s worth examining in larger future studies whether indicators of biological age might help predict adverse outcomes “above and beyond what we know from chronological age.”
“Two women of the same chronological age could have very different histories in terms of their stress exposures as well as their health behaviors,” Christian said. “Two women could both be 35 and have a very different biological age if we look at them at a cellular level.”
Unlike chronological aging, biological aging isn’t linear — so people can actually lengthen their telomeres by changing health behaviors. Strategies include sleep, diet, exercise and stress reduction techniques like meditation, according to Blackburn.
“For all women, focusing on … your physical health as well as your mental well-being during your pregnancy is important,” Christian recommended. “Women who have a history of lower socioeconomic status or lack of social support or other types of stressors in their lives might particularly benefit just by attending to their mental and physical health.”
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