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Can breastfeeding reduce heart disease risk?

Thursday 8th March 2018
Women who breastfeed for more than six months may be less likely to develop heart disease, new research suggests.
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Mothers who breastfeed their babies for at least the first six months of their lives are markedly less likely to suffer from heart disease in the future, according to a new study.

Research carried out by scientists from the University of Pittsburgh and presented at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session saw women divided into three groups: those who never breastfed at all, those who did for under six months and those who did for more than six months.

The researchers monitored the participants' blood pressure levels, cholesterol and carotid artery thickness throughout the study, as these can all be indicators for cardiovascular health problems.

Overall, it was found that mothers who breastfed their infants for longer generally had a lower body mass index, higher levels of good cholesterol and lower levels of triglycerides in their blood.

As a result, they were at less risk of suffering from heart-related health problems in comparison to their counterparts who had never breastfed their children.

Scientists believe that this may be due to breastfeeding naturally increasing levels of the hormone oxytocin in a woman's blood, which previous studies have shown is able to lower blood pressure levels.

In addition, lactation can impact the metabolism, leading women to burn calories more quickly. Subsequently, their body mass index is more likely to be lower, along with their blood pressure.

Malamo Countouris, lead author of the study, commented: "The study adds to the evidence that lactation is important not just for the baby, but for the mother.

"Breastfeeding seems to be cardioprotective in these women, as evidenced by improved cholesterol and markers of subclinical cardiovascular disease."

However, he acknowledged that "there's a lot we still don't understand about the accumulation of cardiovascular risks in women", adding that he hopes examining the effects of pregnancy on heart health will lead to greater insights in the future.

Written by Mathew Horton

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