Judson Haims: Studying pregnancy locally is leading to national conversation
October 8, 2018
Pregnancy and its effects on a woman's longevity and health has little consensus among scientist.
Until recently, pregnancy was thought to not only age women, but also have negative consequence on their health. Locally, Dr. Johnny Huard, chief scientific officer of the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, has been conducting research that may prove otherwise.
Along with Dr. Huard, many world-renowned scientists studying bone and tissue regeneration spoke at the Vail Scientific Summit last month to present new research, scientific breakthroughs and medicines that are aiding stem cell function and tissue regeneration.
Huard believes that the parabiotic pairing between a human mother and fetus during pregnancy rejuvenates women. His research is providing evidence that because a woman's fetus shares cells with the mother, the mother's ability to heal and repair tissue increases.
He also believes there are bone-density benefits that contrast longstanding clinical and scientific studies. While woman's bone density may recover after pregnancy, it has been thought that a contributing factor to women developing osteoporosis at a greater rate than men (almost 1 in 2 women older than 50) was because pregnancy and breastfeeding depletes the mother of calcium and other nutrients as her body tries to meet the demands of the growing fetus.
But new research is providing evidence that pregnancy is in fact good for overall bone health. During the third trimester, when the fetus places greater demand on the mother's supply of calcium, not only does the mother's ability to produce greater amounts of estrogen (a hormone protecting bones) increase, but their ability to absorb calcium from supplements and food also increases — better than women who are not pregnant.
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Thus, according to studies from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, while bone loss may occur during pregnancy, it is typically restored postpartum. If mothers monitor their calcium and hormone levels they may reduce their risks of lowered bone mineral density.
Pregnant women can maintain bone density and calcium levels with consumption of supplements, vitamin D and cruciferous greens such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and watercress.
Exercise also plays a great role in maintaining strong bones. While many people exercise for muscle development and general health, exercise also plays a roll in bone health — particularly, weight-bearing exercise.
Dr. Huard's third supporting reason for studying pregnancy and its rejuvenating effects has to do with the hormones oxytocin and relaxin. Although oxytocin is generally associated with its role in child birth and enhancing emotional attachment, Huard believes that it also has played a part in healing wounds via its anti-inflammatory properties. Some research indicates that oxytocin may also be a therapeutic agent for treating neuroinflammatory diseases.
Relaxin, another hormone Huard studying, is proving to enhance many aspects of wound healing. Relaxin is produced in the ovaries and placenta. It assists in softening the abdominal muscles and rib cage during pregnancy in addition to relaxing the cervix and ligaments around the pelvis during childbirth.
As Huard's research and understanding of pregnancy and the many rejuvenating processes that occur during and after pregnancy continue, we can be guaranteed that remarkable advances will occur in our understanding of wound healing and tissue regeneration.
From head to toe, we are all made of muscle, bone and tissue — all of which are composed of cells. As scientists such as Huard learn more about our cells and the functions of mitochondria (cell's power plants) and ribosomes (producers of proteins) we can expect great advancements in not only orthopedic healing, but healing and rejuvenation in general.
That such substantial and transformative research is being conducted in our mountain community and not a national academic think tank is just another reason to love where we live.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He can be reached at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526. Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series summarizing research presented at the fourth annual Vail Scientific Summit, held Aug. 19 to 21. The first installment was published Sept. 25 and can be found on aspentimes.com.