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Breastfeeding 'lowers C-reactive protein levels'

Babies denied their mothers’ milk are more likely to suffer from chronic inflammation as adults, increasing their chances of disease, disability and early death, a study has found.

Ongoing body-wide inflammation is also associated with low birth weight, the same research showed.

Chronic inflammation, caused by a hyperactive immune system, has been linked to heart disease and strokes, type 2 diabetes, late-life disability, and a greater risk of dying.

The new research found adult levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammation blood marker, rose with shorter durations of breastfeeding in infancy.

Compared with receiving no mothers’ milk at all, being breastfed for less than three months reduced CRP levels by a fifth.

Breastfeeding for three to six months lowered CRP levels by 26.7%, six to 12 months by 29.6%, and more than 12 months by 29.8%.

The effect was at least the same as that produced by treatment with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, which have been shown to reduce CRP, said the scientists.

Higher birth weight was also associated with lower CRP for individuals who weighed more than 2.5 kilograms when they were born.

CRP was 9.2% greater for those weighing in at 2.8 kilograms than for those born a kilogram heavier.

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, come from a US study of almost 7,000 US men and women aged 24 to 32. Fewer than half the participants (44.8%) were breastfed for any length of time as infants.

The study authors, led by Dr Thomas McDade from Northwestern University, said: “We present evidence that lower birth weight and shorter durations of breastfeeding both predict elevated concentrations of CRP in young adulthood, indicating increased risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases that are major health burdens in the US and the UK.

Thomas McDade

Thomas McDade

“Clinical trials have demonstrated that statin therapy reduces CRP in healthy adults by 14.8-17.4%. Our results suggest that the effects of breastfeeding on adult CRP are comparable, or larger, in magnitude.”

Consumption of breast milk may have lasting effects on inflammation by shaping regulatory biological pathways during sensitive phases of immune development, said the scientists.

The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a baby’s life.

Thereafter, mothers are encouraged to continue feeding their babies breast milk alongside solid food into at least their second year.

“Efforts to improve birth outcomes, and to increase the initiation and duration of breastfeeding in accordance with current recommendations, may reduce levels of chronic inflammation in adulthood and lower risk for chronic degenerative diseases of ageing,” the researchers concluded.

Readers' comments (5)

  • I really dislike the use of the word 'denied'; this just puts an even bigger guilt trip than there is already on those women unable to breast feed.

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  • Anonymous | 23-Apr-2014 12:57 pm

    agree. they are not all and always being denied. Mothers usually make the best of what they have and do what they are able in the interests of the baby and in their own.

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  • Whilst I'm pro-choice we have significantly lower levels of breast feeding in the UK than other countries and this is not accounted for by the inability to breast feed.

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  • I am pro breastfeeding but also pro choice. It is an interesting article but I would have liked to know what the actual levels of CRP were. As the 'normal' levels are so low, are we talking about almost negligible changes? The leap to 'reducing levels of chronic inflammation in adulthood' seems rather like wishful thinking. Perhaps one should remember the high numbers of breast fed babies in the past who suffered in old age from a variety of diseases that are now prevented. Perhaps instead of trying to find new reasons to breast feed we should concentrate on the ones that can be proved. Let us make breast feeding 'cool' so the often difficult first few days and weeks for mothers are really worth it!

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  • that's what is wrong with adults in society today. many probably weren't fed breast milk. problem is it is too late and many don't know who they are anyway!

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