Does breastfeeding protect the heart?

"These findings underscore the importance of a preventive approach, including but not limited to prenatal health care and postnatal breastfeeding support," says Molly Metzger. (Credit: Kate Dreyer/Flickr)

Babies who are breastfed for three months or more have a lower risk of chronic inflammation linked to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases as young adults, according to new research.

“This study shows that birth weight and breastfeeding both have implications for children’s health decades later,” says Molly W. Metzger, assistant professor of at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Specifically, we are looking at the effects of these early factors on later levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker associated with risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease,” she says. “Comparing the long-term effects of breastfeeding to the effects of clinical trials of statin therapy, we find breastfeeding to exert effects that are as large or larger.”

Researchers used data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, including parent surveys and blood samples providing measurements of CRP.

The findings held up in a series of sibling models, in which one sibling was breastfed and the other was not. Such models provide improved confidence in the results by implicitly controlling for genetic factors for elevated CRP.

“These findings underscore the importance of a preventive approach, including but not limited to prenatal health care and postnatal breastfeeding support. And we know that uninsured women receive less prenatal care than insured women,” Metzger says.

“So here in Missouri and elsewhere, expanding Medicaid eligibility would be one clear step in the right direction.”

Thomas W. McDade of Northwestern University is a coauthor of the study, which was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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

Source: Washington University in St. Louis