In a different study published this week, researchers from UCSF found that mindfulness practises help lower stress and depression both during pregnancy and for years thereafter.
Researchers from UC San Francisco discovered that stress during pregnancy might speed up the aging of white children, not black children, in Psychological Medicine.
To better understand the consequences of stress on women’s health and its effects on their children, UCSF researchers monitored 110 white and 112 black women from the age of 10 to around 40, as well as the birth of their first child (average age 8). Pregnancy-related financial stress, such as job loss and financial hardship, has been associated with accelerated cellular aging in white children but not with black children.
“Ours is the first study we know of that examined effects of stressor type and timing on this aspect of health for white and Black mothers and their children,” said author Stefanie Mayer, Ph.D., UCSF assistant professor of psychiatry at the Weill Institute for Neurosciences. “We can speculate on the reasons for the results, but the truth is we need to do more research to understand them.“
The length of one’s telomeres and the protective DNA caps at the ends of chromosomes are two indicators of cellular age. Telomere length normally decreases with aging, and shorter telomeres indicate earlier mortality and an earlier onset of diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Previous studies, which mainly included white moms, demonstrated a relationship between prenatal stresses and shorter telomeres in kids. Equal numbers of White and Black moms were enrolled in the UCSF study, which looked at how stressors they experienced before becoming pregnant, throughout pregnancy, and throughout their lives affected the telomeres of their offspring.
Only stresses during pregnancy â€” not later in life or across the lifespan â€” impacted white children’s telomere length. Children of either race showed no discernible telomere effect in response to non-financial stressors like divorce or the loss of a loved one.
“We must continue to study and understand how stress — and resilience to stress — is transmitted in Black mothers, as well as in other understudied racial-ethnic communities,” Mayer said. “Understanding how racial health disparities originate and transmit across generations is a critical public health issue.”STEFANIE MAYER, PHD
Although the cause of the racial differences in prenatal outcomes is unknown, experts have speculated numerous explanations. One is that Black women’s coping mechanisms may lessen the effects of parental stress.
“Given racial health disparities and the role of stress in other important pregnancy health outcomes, such as birth weight and preterm birth, it is critical to support all women during this important period,” said Epel. “We must work harder to identify women with high levels of toxic stress and social adversity to provide interventions that address not just feelings of stress and depression but issues such as food insecurity, financial strain, and housing instability.”
Elissa Epel, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and UCSF professor of psychiatry at Weill Institute for Neurosciences, noted that additional research is required.