Breast is best

Breastfeeding May Help Reduce the Risk of Alzeimer’s Disease

Although improved healthcare has contributed to longer healthier lives, along with ageing comes an increasing risk of dementia. Although the exact cause of dementia remains unknown, new research has shown that Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by an insulin resistance in the brain. More recent research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that breastfeeding may help reduce the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s Disease.

Breastfeeding and Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers interviewed 81 British women between the ages of 70 and 100. Within the group of women, some had developed Alzheimer’s disease while some had not. Relatives, friends and caregivers of these women were also interviewed. The researchers collected data regarding the women’s reproductive history, breastfeeding history and dementia status. Other information, such as a history of stroke, brain tumor or head injury, that could have been related to their dementia status, were also obtained.

Dementia status was measured using a scale known as the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR). In order to estimate the age of the participants at the onset of dementia, the researchers developed a method using the CDR and the known patterns of Alzheimer’s disease progression. This information was then compared to their history of breastfeeding.

Study Results

Although the sample size was small, the researchers were able to identify three trends in their research that remained after taking in other factors, such as current age, education history, age at birth of first child, age at menopause, as well as smoking and drinking history. The three trends showed:
-Women who breastfed their infants had a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to women who did not breastfeed
-Women who breastfed for a longer period of time had a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease
-Women who had a higher ratio of total lifetime months pregnant to total months spent breastfeeding had a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Interestingly, the trends were not as strong for women that had a parent or sibling with dementia. The relationship between breastfeeding and Alzheimer’s disease was significantly lower for these women compared to women that had no family history of dementia.

Theories behind the Trends

Certain theories may help to explain the above trends. Firstly, breastfeeding deprives a woman’s body of progesterone, which helps to compensate for the high levels of progesterone that are produced during pregnancy. This is important because progesterone is known to desensitize the estrogen receptors in the brain. Estrogen is believed to play a protective role against Alzheimer’s disease. The second theory purports that breastfeeding increases glucose tolerance by restoring insulin sensitivity post-pregnancy. This is important because pregnancy results in a natural state of insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by insulin resistance in the brain. While the results of this research show a clear connection between breastfeeding and Alzheimer’s disease, further research needs to investigate the different biological processes that may be responsible for the connection.

The results of this study may help to point us in the right direction towards combating the global epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease. This is especially true for developing countries which are in need of low-cost and efficient methods to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The results may help to further promote the benefits of breastfeeding which may help to persuade women that breastfeeding is a healthier option for new mothers.

Other Known Health Benefits of Breastfeeding

Numerous studies have found varieties of health benefits associated with breastfeeding. Although human milk is important for babies, the process of making milk is also good for mothers, helping protect them from cancers and weak bones later in life. Breastfeeding not only helps mothers bond with their babies and remain calmer under stress, babies who are only bottle fed have more change of speech problems, lower lung capacity, more need for braces than those who feed at the breast. New research now also shows a baby’s saliva enters the breast and helps the mother meet the baby’s needs for immune protection. (If you are exclusively pumping, letting your baby lick or mouth your nipple every day may help this communication happen).

Breastfeeding Duration and Receptive Language at age 3 and Intelligence at age 7

Breastfeeding duration is associated with receptive language at age 3 and intelligence at age 7, according to a study published online July 29 in JAMA Pediatrics. Mandy B. Belfort, MD, MPH, from Boston Children’s Hospital, and colleagues examined the correlations between breastfeeding duration and exclusivity and child cognition at ages 3 and 7, and assessed whether maternal fish consumption modifies these associations. Data were collected from 1,312 mothers and children from a prospective cohort study that enrolled mothers from April 1999 through July 2002 and followed the children to age 7. The researchers found that longer breastfeeding duration correlated with higher Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test score at age 3 years and with higher intelligence on the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test at age 7 years, after adjustment for sociodemographics, maternal intelligence, and home environment. There was no correlation between breastfeeding duration and Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning scores. Greater beneficial effects of breastfeeding were noted on the Wide Range Assessment of Visual Motor Abilities at age 3 years for women who consumed two or more servings of fish per week versus less than two servings. “In summary our results support a causal relationship of breastfeeding in infancy with receptive language at age 3 and with verbal and nonverbal IQ at school age,” the authors write. “These findings support national and international recommendations to promote exclusive breastfeeding through age 6 months and continuation of breastfeeding through at least age 1 year.”

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Breastfeeding and Childhood Obesity

Breastfeeding can halve the risk of children being obese by the age of eight, so says a study from Japan. Researchers in Japan studied 43,000 infants from 2001. They were weighed at the ages of 7 and 8 using body mass index (BMI) guidelines and factors such as exercise and whether mothers smoked were also considered. Some 20 per cent of these children had been breastfed exclusively for six months. At the age of seven it was found, those children breastfed were 15 per cent less likely to be overweight and 45 per cent less at risk of obesity than those children who were ‘formula fed’. By the age of eight reduced obesity risk was even greater at 55 per cent. Dr Michiyo Yamakawa who led this study, published in Jama Pediatrics, claims the results of this research show “it would be better to support breastfeeding even in developed countries”.

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