Having babies later may extend life

Women who had their last child at age 33 years or older were more likely to reach extremes of longevity, according to an analysis published online June 23 in Menopause.
Women who had their last child when they were aged 33 to 37 years were twice as likely to reach the extreme fifth percentile of longevity compared with women who had their last child before that age.

“Prolonged fertility may be a marker of slower aging,” write the authors, led by Fangui Sun, PhD, from the Department of Biostatistics at Boston University in Massachusetts. Previous studies, including some on historical data in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, had found that women who had their last children late in life tended to live longer and to have siblings who lived longer.

Dr. Sun and colleagues analyzed data from the Long Life Family Study, whose participants have multiple family members who have reached extremes of longevity. The population includes sets of siblings selected because of their collective longevity scores, along with their spouses and children. The families were recruited between 2006 and 2009 in Boston; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; New York City; and Denmark.

One hypothesis to account for the association between maternal age and longevity, write Dr. Sun and colleagues, is that women whose bodies use energy more efficiently are able to both avoid age-related diseases and have increased fertility. The authors suspect these women would also be more likely to have more children, but in this study, they found a nonsignificant association in the opposite direction: having 3 or more children decreased the likelihood of extreme longevity.

The authors note that twin studies have suggested that genetics only explain about 20% of variation in longevity but that the influence of genetics increases at older ages. In other words, environmental and behavioral factors may influence a person’s likelihood of living to their mid-80s, but in the extremes of old age, genetics play more of a role. They suggest that studying the genetics of fertility may reveal genes that influence longevity.

The Long Life Family Study was funded by the National Institute on Aging/National Institutes of Health.
Menopause. Published online June 23, 2014.

Adopting healthy habits in your 30s can decrease heart disease risk.

The heart is more forgiving than you may think — especially to adults who try to take charge of their health, a new Northwestern Medicine® study has found.

When adults in their 30s and 40s decide to drop unhealthy habits that are harmful to their heart and embrace healthy lifestyle changes, they can control and potentially even reverse the natural progression of coronary artery disease, scientists found.

“It’s not too late,” said Bonnie Spring lead investigator of the study and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of the WHRI Leadership Council.  “You’re not doomed if you’ve hit young adulthood and acquired some bad habits. You can still make a change and it will have a benefit for your heart.”

On the flip side, scientists also found that if people drop healthy habits or pick up more bad habits as they age, there is measurable, detrimental impact on their coronary arteries.“If you don’t keep up a healthy lifestyle, you’ll see the evidence in terms of your risk of heart disease,” Spring said.

“This finding is important because it helps to debunk two myths held by some health care professionals,” Spring said. “The first is that it’s nearly impossible to change patients’ behaviors. Yet, we found that 25 percent of adults made healthy lifestyle changes on their own. The second myth is that the damage has already been done — adulthood is too late for healthy lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease. Clearly, that’s incorrect. Adulthood is not too late for healthy behavior changes to help the heart.”

The bad news is that 40 percent of this sample lost healthy lifestyle factors and acquired more bad habits as they aged.“That loss of healthy habits had a measurable negative impact on their coronary arteries,” Spring said. “Each decrease in healthy lifestyle factors led to greater odds of detectable coronary artery calcification and higher intima-media thickness. Adulthood isn’t a ‘safe period’ when one can abandon healthy habits without doing damage to the heart. A healthy lifestyle requires upkeep to be maintained.”

Spring said the healthy changes people in the study made are attainable and sustainable. She offers some tips for those who want to embrace a healthy lifestyle at any age:

  • Keep a healthy body weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five times a week
  • No more than one alcoholic drink a day for women, no more than two for men
  • Eat a healthy diet, high in fiber, low in sodium with lots of fruit and vegetables

The study was published June 30 in the journal Circulation.

Source:  Northwestern News Center.  By Erin White


The Right to Contraception Coverage

Yesterday, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that “requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. conceded that the government does have a “compelling interest in making sure women have access to contraception,” but that there are ways of providing that access without “violating the companies’ religious rights.”

Justice Ginsburg’s dissent put into words what many onlookers felt. Justice Ginsburg stated that requiring contraception coverage is vital to women’s health and reproductive freedom. Furthermore, Justice Ginsburg stated this may invite “for-profit entities to seek religious-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths,” including some medical procedures and drugs, vaccinations, and even blood transfusions—procedures which certain religions denounce. While there is no evidence yet to support this claim that corporations will begin splitting hairs over other medical procedures, it does raise important questions about where the line is drawn between business and religion.

Those who disagree with the Supreme Court decision state that requiring all insurance plans to include coverage for contraception improves not only public health, but also ensures that “women have equal access to health care services.” Therefore, this blow was particularly shocking. If other family-owned corporations follow this ruling, the cost for contraception coverage will likely become a barrier for many women. IUD’s, for instance, can coast more than $1,000 once medical exams, insertion, and follow-up visits are added—and it is likely that this may cost too much for some women to pay without insurance coverage.

While the full repercussions of this decision are not yet clear, it is important to develop protective measures that defend women’s healthcare and their access to a range of contraception options.

Source: The New York Times