Haims: Steadman Philippon Research Institute studying pregnancy and its relation to longevity (column)
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part series summarizing research presented at the fourth annual Vail Scientific Summit, held Aug. 19-21. The next installment will be published in the Tuesday, Sept. 25, Vail Daily.
When considering the effects of childbirth on women and the relation to life expectancy, the science is ambiguous and complicated.
Some research indicates that women who have experienced more pregnancies have elevated levels of oxidative damage — an imbalance between the level of free radical cells and the body’s antioxidant defenses — that may decrease longevity.
Other research suggests that childbirth revitalizes the body, with longevity increasing the more a woman gives birth.
I have found this disparity interesting and perplexing. As I try to provide high-level information and education that promotes longevity, I have shied away from addressing this subject matter, as it is extremely complex and the science behind it offers many conflicting conclusions.
But last month, while attending the fourth annual Vail Scientific Summit presented by the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, I changed my mind.
The speakers who addressed the topics of aging and the relation between fetus and mother during pregnancy were an impressive group of people. Listening to them speak about their research was abstruse, and I quickly realized I was the most uneducated person in the room. However, I was able to understand the high-level concepts, and I feel compelled to share — as best I can — the exciting work they are doing.
In his presentation “Mother and Fetus Interaction During Pregnancy,” Dr. Johnny Huard, of the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, explained that in studies where a young mouse was attached to and shared blood with an older mouse (called parabiosis), scientists found that the older mouse had been rejuvenated. The young blood and stem cells provided by the younger mouse (not a fetus) showed remarkable results. Within muscles, tissue, bone, heart and other organs, including the brain of the older mouse, new and rejuvenated life was present.
Huard explained that by studying the parabiotic pairing between a human mother and fetus, he was gaining a better understanding of a possible reason for women often living longer than men. This new insight into human biology may lead to a paradigm shift in the belief that childbearing is energetically expensive for women and likely increases their risk of osteoporosis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
New research is showing that cells from the fetus have been found within the mother — proving the fetus shares cells with the mother, thus promoting the rejuvenating processes. Huard elucidated about this by giving some compelling examples.
His first example explained how doctors who specialize in spina bifida at a Houston Texas fetal surgery department have studied the scar tissue of women who had surgical procedures to repair the spinal cord of the fetus within the womb.
What doctors found was that the after pregnancy, the women no longer had scars. This lends great credibility to the thought that the fetus may have significantly assisted in the skin-healing processes. With such profound evidence, doctors are now studying biopsies of the scar tissue and the chromosomes contained within.
Scientists at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute are studying pregnancy to identify biological factors that they may be able to use to delay aging and promote the healing of bone and tissue. This is truly incredible and groundbreaking work being conducted right here in our little town.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.