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Kids of Older Fathers Live Longer: Study

Update Date: Jun 12, 2012 04:32 PM EDT

A new research has revealed that men who wait a little longer before fathering a child are more likely to have children healthier than those born to younger men.

According to scientists, children born to fathers between the ages of late 30s and early 50s inherit longer 'telomeres,' which protect against aging degeneration and disease.

Telomeres are like "caps" at the end of the strands of chromosomes. They are described as plastic caps at the end of shoe laces because they protect DNA strands from unraveling, diseases, and the degeneration of cells with age.

"In most cells, telomeres shorten with age. But in sperm, telomeres lengthen with age," lead researcher Dan Eisenberg, from Northwestern University's Department of Anthropology, said, according to news.com.au. "Men who reproduce at an older age father children with longer telomeres compared with men who reproduce at a younger age. An individual's telomere length increased not only with their father's age at their birth, but also further increased with their paternal grandfather's age at their father's birth. This suggests delayed paternal reproduction can lead to cumulative, multi-generational increases in telomere length in descendants, which could promote longevity."

Studies in the past have revealed that lengthening telomeres prolong life and also curb aging in laboratory mice.

In Australia, more and more men are opting for late fatherhood with the average age of men becoming fathers increasing from 31 to 34 between 1990 and 2010. Also, more men are becoming fathers in their late 50s and early 60s, says the report.

Earlier, it was believed that children born to older fathers were born with health problems. Some studies even linked late fatherhood to an increased risk of harmful mutations causing low intelligence, autism, schizophrenia and other disorders in children.

For the study, the length of the telomeres in DNA using blood samples of 1779 young Filipino adults and their mothers was measured and the age of their fathers and grandfathers was determined.

Apparently, a person's telomeres became longer with their father's age at their birth, as well as their grandfather's age at birth of their father. This implies that the effect of longevity amplifies over the generations.

Also, researchers believe that longer telomeres could delay sexual development, and could instead divert energy into concentrating on maintaining healthy functioning at more advanced ages.

"If your father and grandfather were able to live and reproduce at a later age, this might predict that you yourself live in an environment that is somewhat similar - an environment with less accidental deaths or in which men are only able to find a partner at later ages," Eisenberg said in a statement. "In such an environment, investing more in a body capable of reaching these late ages could be an adaptive strategy from an evolutionary perspective."

"If our recent ancestors waited until later in adulthood before they reproduced, perhaps for cultural reasons, it would make sense for our bodies to prepare for something similar by investing the extra resources necessary to maintain healthy functioning at more advanced ages," Co-author Professor Christopher Kuzawa, an anthropologist at Northwestern University, added.

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