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Breastfeeding Can Protect Against Heart Disease for Low-Weight Babies

Update Date: Apr 24, 2014 11:28 AM EDT

Breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant's life is highly recommended. Several studies have found that breastfeeding can improve physical and cognitive growth. In a new study, researchers found a link between a short duration of breastfeeding and an increase risk of heart disease assessed via inflammation levels. The researchers also discovered a link between low-birth weight babies and chronic inflammation that was tied to heart disease.

"The results suggest that breastfeeding may reduce a major risk factor for heart disease well into adulthood," said Alan Guttmacher, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

For this study, the team recruited more than 7,000 people between the ages of 24 and 32. The participants had varying racial and educational backgrounds. The researchers had data on the participants' birth weights, duration of breastfeeding and current levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP, which is measured through blood samples, is an indicator of inflammation and is produced by the liver. Higher CRP levels indicate more inflammation, which can increase heart disease risk.

"Each pound of additional birth weight predicted a CRP concentration that was five percent lower," the researchers from Northwestern University wrote according to the New York Daily News. "Three to 12 months of breastfeeding predicted CRP levels that were 20 to 30 percent lower compared with individuals who were not breastfed."

The researchers concluded that breastfeeding had similar or even greater effects than medicine on people's future inflammation levels. The findings add on to the long list of reasons why mothers should breastfeed their newborns. Currently, almost 40 percent of infants are breastfed throughout the world.

"This is a major public health issue. If we can raise breastfeeding rates it will pay dividends in healthcare savings in the future," lead author Thomas McDade, professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, said reported in the Telegraph.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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