Aging in Reverse: Babies and Older Fathers

young and old

Key Takeaways:

  • Current research by David Sinclair at Harvard, suggests that there are novel ways to “reverse aging”

  • Older men having babies have a strong correlation with higher outcomes of congenital disease at birth

  • There are ways for both men and women to protect their genetic material in the form of egg freezing and sperm freezing.

Even before Ponce de Leon set out to find the fabled Fountain of Youth, people have sought to fight the effects of advancing age. And even though discoveries in medicine and technology have helped to ease and improve our day-to-day lives, humans continue to look for ways to gain even more, resulting in still-more attempts to delay the inevitable.

This race against the limits of life isn’t necessarily futile: Parents-to-be who choose to start families when they’re older often wish to provide their offspring with an upbringing that benefits from their accumulated wisdom and maturity. In addition, raising a family is now said to be more expensive than at any other time in history. So, it only makes sense to put off having kids until the proverbial stars align in optimally temperamental, emotional, and financial ways.

But does waiting to have kids pose risks that could offset perceived benefits? And what of advances in medicine that could prolong the ideal health of prospective parents, prompting some to consider such a wait well worth it?

It’s all in the arteries

An old saying says in effect that people are really only as old as their arteries. Which has naturally led some to ask whether improvements to arterial health could somehow restore the vitality of youth.

A recent study from researchers at the Harvard Medical School indicates that the answer to that query could be Yes. Results of the research, published in the March 2018 journal Cell, pinpoint the critical molecular operations underlying vascular aging and how those effects were positively reversed in the laboratory animals.

Senior investigator David Sinclair, professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School, said of the study, “We’ve discovered a way to reverse vascular aging by boosting the presence of naturally occurring molecules in the body that augment the physiological response to exercise.”

In a press release, Sinclair, who is also a professor at the University of New South Wales School of Medical Sciences in Sydney, Australia, went on to note that the approach he and his team took “stimulates blood vessel growth” in mice while also improving endurance and stamina. This, in turn, sets up the possibility that therapies could be developed in humans that might “address the spectrum of diseases that arise from vascular aging”.

In a YouTube video, Sinclair cautions that while his discovery might “sound like the Fountain of Youth” to some, he’d prefer not to use that term. Instead, he asserts that he knows that such a scenario “will be possible” someday. For now, he acknowledges that “we’ve turned a corner” and “the future of humanity looks bright”.

Outrunning reality?

Potential improvements to arterial health notwithstanding, serious considerations abound for couples who wish to delay beginning a family. And while conventional wisdom has centered on the “ticking” of a woman’s biological clock, recent research indicates that men who become fathers past the age of 40 also face risks. As a recent New York Times headline says, “Older Fathers More Likely to Have Babies With Health Problems”. Possible concerns covered in the article include low birth weight, neonatal complications, and premature birth.

In fact, a 2018 study published in the BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal) involved over 40.5 million births in the United States. Babies born to older fathers faced risks such as premature birth, low Apgar score (a shorthand method of determining a newborn’s risk of infant mortality), seizures, and low birth rate.

The study, directed by Dr. Michael L. Eisenberg, a urologist and head of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, reached the conclusion that “more than 12 percent of births to fathers aged 45 years or older with adverse outcomes might have been prevented were the fathers younger.”

Dr. Hilary K. Brown, a researcher in reproductive public health at the University of Toronto, published an editorial that accompanied the BMJ study, stressing that “current findings underscore the importance of including, in reproductive life plans, discussions of paternal age and declines in sperm quality.”

Upside and downside protection

It may well be that humankind has finally reached a point where the benefits of prolonging life might unwittingly result in certain downsides that still require attention, such as advanced paternal age. Until that particular Fountain of Youth is confirmed as discovered, the Legacy man can best protect his future by preserving his assets.