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Being Breastfed Links to Lower Inflammation

Line Drawing of Nursing Mother and BabyAICR's expert report and its continuous updates found that being breastfed can help reduce future cancer risk by helping the baby stay a healthy weight as an adult. Now a recent study suggests a new way in which breastfeeding may offer protection, finding that young adults who were breastfed have a lower risk of chronic inflammation compared to those not breastfed.

A growing body of research suggests a low-level constant state of inflammation increases the risk of many chronic diseases, including some cancers.

Study authors used data from almost 7,000 participants who were part of national study on adolescent health. Twenty years ago, the participants were teenagers going to middle and high school.  They, and many of their parents, were interviewed. Then in 2007-2008, when the participants were ages 24–32, their levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) were measured from a blood sample. CRP is a marker of inflammation.

Almost half the participants were breastfed for some amount of time. Overall, the longer infants were breastfed, the lower their levels of CRP as young adults. Individuals breastfed for three months or longer had substantially lower CRP concentrations compared to those never breastfed. The link lessened but still held after adjusting for birth weight, waist circumference and other risk factors.

Study researchers did not look at diet or weight, but adult waist circumference is one measure of excess body fat and previous research suggests breastfeeding may play a role in abdominal fat. Using a statistical model, the authors calculated that adult waist circumference accounted for roughly a third to half of the association between adult CRP levels and breastfeeding, depending upon how long the breastfeeding lasted.

Breast milk may have lasting effects on inflammation by shaping regulatory and metabolic pathways that play a role in body fat, the authors hypothesize. And while this study supports others that have similar findings, more research is needed.

The study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Thomas W. McDade et al. "Long-term effects of birth weight and breastfeeding duration on inflammation in early adulthood."  Proc. R. Soc. B 7 June 2014 vol. 281 no. 1784 20133116. April 23, 2014.

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