Great-grandma's fertility may hold clues to how long you will live
May 11th, 2011
08:59 AM ET

Great-grandma's fertility may hold clues to how long you will live

The secret to longevity may be found deep in the branches of your family tree. An intriguing new study completed at the University of Utah finds that pioneer women who had twins lived longer than their counterparts who gave birth to only one baby at a time. And that, experts say, could help us understand aging today.

“There is something about how women reproduce that may impact their health in later life,” says lead researcher Ken R. Smith, professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah. Smith and his team looked at just more than 58,000 non-polygamous white Utah women born between 1807 and 1899 who lived to age 50. They found women who gave birth to twins not only lived longer, but were more physically fit and more fertile.

“The findings do not mean having twins is healthy for women, but instead that healthier women have an increased chance of delivering twins,” says Smith. “It’s something innate, that could lead her to having a longer life.”

Smith and his colleagues choose to study pioneer women because they are the perfect "natural fertility population."  "At that time, they weren’t tinkering with their fertility,” says Smith. Remember, this is before modern birth control and fertility treatments. Also, women were encouraged to have as many children as possible, especially in Utah, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled in the 1800s.

Fast forward to 2011. What does this mean to you and me? Smith says if you have a history of twins conceived naturally in your family, it may suggest that your genes are hardier than most and that you may live longer. But he stresses that while the findings are important, “this is not a prescription to have twins.” “It’s complicated. There are so many factors that contribute to longevity, health and aging.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Aging and appears in the May 11 edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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Filed under: Longevity • Women's Health

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. nina786

    nice information...:)


    May 11, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. GeneaologyFan

    Most any geneaologist could show you the pattern. My French-Canadian ancestors had many multiple births – we even tie to the Dionne quints! And the women in my family live well into their 90s and many past 100. On the other families that I have researched for other people, you can see it there as well. Pretty unique – didn't know why until this article – Thanks!

    May 11, 2011 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Belkasem

      I am Jack\'s mom and we had Suzanne out to our home when Jack was just 14 days old. The images Suzanne cateprud of our little boy are priceless we absolutely love them all! I especially love the ones of Jack in our hands! He won\'t be this tiny for much longer It was a pleasure working with Suzanne. She is a real pro! Not only a great photographer but a seasoned mom . She had a lot of great tricks to try and coax Jack to sleep since he was wide-eyed most of the session. Thanks Suzanne!

      November 14, 2012 at 16:25 | Report abuse |
  3. K

    I have a history of twins on both sides of the family. I'm going to live forever!

    May 11, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jan

      Absolutely amazing pthoos. These are stunning!! All of them are. You are so talented. My sister-in-law is having twin boys (Aaron's sister) in March! I will share your link with her and would love to talk about some pthoos with Stella and Isaac even though the newborn stage is long gone Hope you are well and again, beautiful pthoos and babies!

      November 14, 2012 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
  4. Katherine

    I have to question this- my grandparents were unable to have kids and adopted, and my grandma is 87 and is not only still healthy but extremely active as well!

    May 12, 2011 at 08:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Truefax

    So you're tell me I should only date twins?

    May 12, 2011 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. threepeas

    Which kind of twins are inherited - identical or fraternal? I have identical twin girls plus a boy, one year older. There are identical twins on my husband's side and lots of kids on my mom's side. The twins in the photo are so cute, it makes me want more kids!! Just kidding.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Angiemomma

    There were 5 runners on my girls high school track team who all went on to give birth to a set of boy/girl twins (including myself). I've often wondered what it was about us (physical fitness?) that made this happen!?

    May 12, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Linda

    I think this is ridiculous!! My grandmother's family routinely lived into their 90's, and no one EVER had twins. Plus, what about cancer, accidents, environment, etc??????

    May 31, 2011 at 21:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. TravelSheryl

    Hardier??? What does that mean? Does it mean you are more fertile?

    June 4, 2011 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. MomOfAnOnlyChild

    My G-G-Grandma had 17 kids with 2 sets of twins and lived to be 105. I never would have made it.

    June 8, 2011 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply

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