Although many of us think of aging as a gradual, cumulative process, scientists have found that at two distinct points in people’s lives the process accelerates.
In women in particular, this acceleration is related to experience during childbirth and menopause.
A team of researchers at the Beijing Institute of Genomics in China, led by Weiqi Zhang, said the pace of aging tends to accelerate in women in their 30s and 50s, when they are most likely to experience both of these life-changing events.
The research team recruited 113 women aged 20 to 66 who had no known medical conditions and were from Quzhou in southeast China.
They collected blood, urine and stool samples from the participants, asked them about their diet and lifestyle, photographed their faces and took more than 100 clinical measurements, including height and weight, blood pressure and lung capacity.
Next, they analyzed their genes, facial measurements, gut microbiomes, hormones and immune markers, while also measuring the length of their telomeres — pieces of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes.
Scientists have found that women tended to be biologically “younger” than they actually were when they ate a healthy diet high in fruits and grains.
They also observed that those in their 30s and 50s had the fastest aging rates.
This led Dr. Zhang concluded that aging is related to hormonal changes.
Women of this age often give birth or go through menopause, she explained, two processes that radically affect their hormones.
“These results suggest that the pace of female aging may be regulated, at least in part, by the hormonal regulatory system,” said Dr. Zhang in the study, published in the journal Med.
Volunteers over 45 who also took hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat menopausal symptoms also appeared to age slower than those who didn’t.
“Hormone replacement therapy can moderate the decline in circulating hormones and potentially slow the rate [ageing]”, says Dr. Zhang.
The researcher concluded that more research was needed to confirm the study’s findings because the study included a small number of participants.
The team plans to do a similar study in men to see if they show different aging patterns.