Aging Begins in the Womb, Antioxidants Can Help

According to a recent study, humans start aging before they've even left the womb. Here's why this matters—and what can be done in pregnancy to control its effects.

Aging Begins in the Womb, Antioxidants Can Help Syda Productions/Shutterstock

According to a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, the aging process starts long before wrinkles start showing up on our faces—in fact, if this research is any indication, we actually begin that process while we're still in the womb.

It seems intuitive—after all, even a fetus is continually growing and aging in order to prepare for birth—but here's the surprising part: the way the aging process is handled when an infant is still in your tummy can actually affect how he ages later in life.

More than just cosmetic

According to the study, the offspring of women with lower levels of oxygen in the womb aged more rapidly as adults. The lower levels of oxygen can be brought on by smoking or carrying out a pregnancy in higher altitudes. A reduction in the amount of oxygen a baby receives is actually the most common complication in pregnancy and can also affect women with preeclampsia.

"Aging is not just cosmetic but clearly it is also associated with an increased risk of suffering conditions associated with aging, like heart disease and diabetes," Professor Dino Giussani, the study's senior author, told Fit Pregnancy. "So, accelerated aging in offspring of pregnancies complicated by reduced oxygenation, as it happens with maternal smoking, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and with maternal obesity, can predispose the offspring to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Treating these complicated pregnancies with antioxidants would prevent the prenatal origins of cardiovascular disease in these children."

Slowing the aging process

The good news? There are steps you can take to slow this aging process down for your children before they're even born. They're actually quite simple: It's all about eating more antioxidant-rich foods.

"Physicians have always recommended an appropriate, nutritious diet during pregnancy, one that includes foods rich in antioxidants like fruit and vegetables. It is also a good idea to boost antioxidant intake in food in anticipation of pregnancy in women thinking about becoming pregnant," Guissani said. He added that the best way to get more antioxidants is to consume them the old fashioned way—by seeking out foods high in helpful antioxidants..

"Natural foods rich in antioxidants are better than supplements," Giussani said. "A nutritionist will better advise which types of food are rich in antioxidants [like] vitamin C." Antioxidant-rich foods we love include blueberries, kale, sweet potatoes and beans.