Scientists analyzed the brain structure of middle-aged women and found that in giving birth he looks younger than in never having children. This is due to the fact that the protective mechanisms that are included in the body of the expectant mother, operate throughout life. The results of the study are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
During pregnancy and the first weeks after childbirth, serious changes occur in a woman’s body, including the brain. Its plasticity increases sharply, there is a restructuring of neural connections, powerful adaptation mechanisms are included to ensure the health of the mother and offspring.
It is known, for example, that during gestation the brain of pregnant women decreases, and then recovers within six months after childbirth.
In the scientific literature, it has been suggested more than once that neuronal changes that appear during pregnancy can go far beyond the postpartum period, continuing to have a protective effect on a woman’s brain throughout her life, slowing down the processes of neurobiological aging.
A group of European scientists from Great Britain, Norway and the Netherlands decided to test this hypothesis. They studied the structure of the brain in 12021 British women aged 54-55 years (9568 of them gave birth at least once in life, and 2453 did not give birth even once). Using machine learning methods, the researchers created a neuroimaging algorithm that allows not only to detect in the woman’s brain traces of changes laid during pregnancy, but also to determine how many births were.
Analysis showed that the brains of those who gave birth looked younger. The biological age of their brain was 2-3 years less than that of nulliparous peers. Moreover, the more often a woman gave birth, the greater was the gap between the real and biological age of her brain.
To exclude the influence of other factors, scientists tested the connection of the biological age of the brain of women with their ethnicity, education, body mass index and age at first birth. No correlation of these parameters, as well as the factor of genetic variation with the biological age of the brain was found.
To explain how the neural changes that occur during and after pregnancy affect the subsequent aging of the woman’s brain, scientists suggest several hypotheses. This may be due to endocrine shifts. It is known that hormones such as estradiol, progesterone, prolactin, oxytocin and cortisol affect brain activity, and their fluctuations can have long-term effects on brain health. It is possible that fetal (embryonic) cells that remain in the woman’s body long after birth act on microchemical reactions in the brain.