LARAMIE, Wyo. — Many parents report feeling older after having their first child. Which, all things considered, makes sense; sleepless nights, early mornings, and an overall increase in responsibility is likely to result in an extra gray hair or two. Interestingly, a new joint study conducted by the University of Wyoming and the Salvador Zubiran National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition in Mexico City is flipping the script on this notion and suggesting that certain parents, more specifically obese mothers, can cause their children to age at an accelerated rate.
It’s been well established that obesity can put an individual at greater risk of diabetes and heart disease, while impairing one’s metabolism. However, after studying the offspring of obese rat mothers, the research team say the effects of maternal obesity can be passed down to subsequent generations, and accelerate the offspring’s rate of aging when it comes to metabolic problems.
The offspring of the obese rats were tracked throughout their lives, from puberty all the way into late adult life. They exhibited excess body fat and pre-diabetic signs at a very young age, such as a rise in insulin resistance.
On a cellular level, the offspring’s mitochondria displayed impaired functioning, making them much more likely to develop heart disease. Mitochondria create the energy that cells need in order to function properly.
Surprisingly, researchers noted that there were some observed differences in the accelerated aging process among male and female offspring. They aren’t sure why this was the case, but theorize it is likely related to hormones.
On the bright side, proper exercise did appear to curtail the most of the harmful effects of maternal obesity across both genders.
“These new findings add to the accumulating evidence for the influence of conditions in the womb and early life on the offspring’s health and susceptibility to diseases throughout life,” comments study co-leader Peter Nathanielsz, of the University of Wyoming Pregnancy and Life Course Health Center, in a release.
Nathanielsz has also conducted previous research indicating children of obese mothers who are exposed to a high-fat, high-sugar diet while in the womb can develop a “fatty liver” as a fetus, putting the child at an elevated risk of obesity and subsequent cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.
The study is published in The Journal of Physiology.