Sun may determine lifespan at birth, study finds

The Sun by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA

Could the Sun be your lucky—or unlucky—star? In an unusual study published Wednesday, Norwegian scientists said people born during periods of solar calm may live longer, as much as five years on average, than those who enter the world when the Sun is feisty.

The team overlaid of Norwegians born between 1676 and 1878 with observations of the Sun.

The lifespan of those born in periods of —interludes marked by powerful flares and geomagnetic storms—was "5.2 years shorter" on average than those born during a solar minimum, they found.

"Solar activity at birth decreased the probability of survival to adulthood," thus truncating , according to the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

There was a stronger effect on girls than boys, it said.

The Sun has cycles that last 11 years, give or take, from one period of greatest activity or solar maximum, to the next.

Solar maxima are marked by an increase in sunspots, and that can disrupt radio communications and electrical power on Earth, damage satellites and disturb navigational equipment.

Solar activity is also linked to levels of ultraviolet radiation— an environmental stressor known to affect survival and reproductive performance, possibly by causing cell and DNA damage, according to the study authors.

Sun may determine lifespan at birth, study finds
Credit: Robert A. Rohde/GNU General Public License

Fertility reduced

The team, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, based their study on demographic data from church records of some 8,600 individuals from two different mid-Norwegian populations, one poor and one wealthy.

This was matched to maps of historical solar cycles.

On top of lifespan, being born in a solar maximum period also "significantly reduced" fertility for women born into the poor category, but not for wealthier women or for men, said the authors.

"We show for the first time that not only infant survival and thus lifespan but also fertility is statistically associated with solar activity at birth," they wrote.

It was not clear whether the same would necessarily hold true for people born in the modern era.

One explanation could be ultraviolet-induced degradation of the B vitamin folate, a shortage of which before birth has been linked to higher rates of illness and death, the team theorised.

"Our findings suggest that maternal exposure to solar activity during gestation can affect the fitness of female children," the authors wrote.

"The effect of socio-economic status on the relationship between solar activity and fertility suggests that high-status pregnant women were better able to avoid the adverse effects of high "—possibly by staying out of the Sun or because a healthier diet curbed the harm.

The team did not have data about how early or late into a solar maximum event the children were born—a limitation of the study.

And they could not fully distinguish between pre- or post-natal exposure to ultraviolet light.

Further investigation is needed, they said, to test whether the results were repeated in people of different skin colours, and those living at different latitudes.

"This study is the first to emphasise the importance of UVR (ultraviolet radiation) in early life," the authors said.

"UVR is a global stressor with potential ecological impacts and the future levels of UVR are expected to increase due to climate change and variation in atmospheric ozone."

Explore further

Suddenly, the sun is eerily quiet: Where did the sunspots go?

More information: Solar activity at birth predicted infant survival and women's fertility in historical Norway, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2014.2032

© 2015 AFP

Citation: Sun may determine lifespan at birth, study finds (2015, January 7) retrieved 19 September 2019 from
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Jan 07, 2015
You notice that they did not overlay this data with any modern numbers, anything in the last 100 years, where the records are more than plentiful. This screams uncorrelated cause and effects -- or maybe Norwegians get more radiation from being so far North

Jan 07, 2015
You notice that they did not overlay this data with any modern numbers, anything in the last 100 years, where the records are more than plentiful. This screams uncorrelated cause and effects -- or maybe Norwegians get more radiation from being so far North

Statistics are funny that way... you make 'em look like just about anything you want, if you connect the right correlation points...

Jan 07, 2015
-- or maybe Norwegians get more radiation from being so far North

So... you're sayin' radiation boiled off their melanin?

Jan 07, 2015
Ok. How?

Jan 08, 2015
Excellent study indeed –first of its kind- . It may help NASA researchers to take it more seriously for their planned future Mars travel and `Cosmic Radiation Exposure and Effect and risk on human body ` through the unprotected or limited protected cosmic radiation laden space . It seems the statistical research is well designed specifically to measure `effect of Solar Radiation` – all forms of Cosmic Radiation and not only Ultraviolet spectrum for sure – and solar radiations well known and documented periodicity ` intensity increase during -solar flares –sun spots-coronal mass ejections – on human body- . Specifically Immune Stem Cell Mass during ` MOST VULNERABLE infantile New born period` , and the challenge of `infectious diseases as well as cancer` –The biggest killers 100 years ago . –Less Motor vehicle accident related deaths obviously 100 years ago excluded by choosing that period in history- .

Jan 08, 2015
It is the well known and documented fact that the `Immune surveillance is dramatically impaired against all forms of cancer with radiation exposure during `VULNERABLE NEWBORN PERIOD- as well as Immune protection against all forms of Infectious diseases –especially valid pre antibiotic and pre infectious disease preventive era 100 years ago in history `. So the survival and longevity should be `Radiation dose exposure` correlated linearly – more exposure , earlier death .
Solar system during flares and coronal mass ejections has enough energy to generate additional radiation as it passes through Earth's atmosphere, creating either radionuclides in the air or secondary particles. Some secondary particles reach the Earth's surface—most readily near the magnetic poles –Northern latitude of Norway is obvious here being close to the pole - where shielding by the Earth's magnetic field is weakest and at high altitudes where the Earth's atmosphere is thinnest.

Jan 08, 2015
Terrestrial and Cosmo Genic radionuclides enter the body through the food we eat, water we drink, and air we breathe. As with all chemicals, radionuclides are used and eliminated by the body during normal metabolism. Some radionuclides decay away quickly but are re-placed through fresh ingestion or inhalation. Other radionuclides decay more slowly and may concentrate in specific body tissues (such as radium in bone); others are not readily absorbed by the gut and are quickly eliminated . The background level of radiation in the natural environment surrounds us at all times . Since the Earth formed and life developed, background radiation has been our constant companion, BUT solar radiation changes periodically .

Jan 08, 2015
I think this is an interesting and provocative article, However, as El_Nose points out, there is room for many questions. One is to note that coincidence is not causation. The other is that a mechanism should be identified. Don't get me wrong, I think this is very interesting. Now I want to see multiple groups try to replicate the effect. Even if they want to go back over a meta-analysis of the existing data while using a different analysis package. I hope we see this again in 6 months from a different group, but we also might see this drift off the radar as non-repeatable data.

Jan 09, 2015
The solar cycle may also have affected the climate, with some more lean years with fetuses being malnourished during the bad ones.

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