A new study has found that childhood poverty and a lack of healthy family social support may cause premature aging of cells, possibly increasing the risk of complications in pregnant women.
Researchers at The Ohio State University examined blood from pregnant women to evaluate the length of telomeres – structures at the end of chromosomes that are used by scientists as a measure of biological (as opposed to chronological) age. Shorter telomeres mean an older cellular age.
The researches then asked about psychosocial factors, such as socioeconomic status and trauma in childhood and present-day social support systems.
They found that women who reported low socioeconomic status as kids and who struggled with family support as adults were biologically older, as indicated by shorter telomeres.
Though this study did not monitor birth outcomes, it raised important questions:
Advanced maternal age is defined by doctors as 35 or older. It is well-understood that older mothers are at higher risk of having babies with medical and developmental challenges, and it is possible that this applies to moms with advanced cellular age as well, said the study’s lead author, Amanda Mitchell, who was on the research team at Ohio State and is now a faculty member at the University of Louisville.
“What we are wondering is, how does biological age factor in? We know that there are younger mothers who have poor birth outcomes, and that chronological age is not a perfect predictor of outcomes,” Mitchell said.