Breastfeeding may protect against inflammation and heart disease when babies reach young adulthood, according to researchers from Northwestern University.
Researchers evaluated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a signal of inflammation and predicts increased cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk in adulthood, in nearly 7,000 young adults, ages 24 to 32. They traced the levels of CRP back to the young adults' birth weight and how long they were breastfed. The results revealed that there is another benefit of breastfeeding: CRP levels were 20 to 30 percent lower in young adults who were breastfed for 3 to 12 months as babies compared to those who were never breastfed.
CRP is a protein produced by the liver that increases when there is inflammation throughout the body. High levels of CRP can cause infections and other diseases that could eventually lead to a heart attack and various other heart problems.
"The findings about breastfeeding and birth weight are particularly illuminating," says Thomas McDade, lead author of the study, professor of anthropology in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and faculty fellow of the university's Institute for Policy Research. "The rates for many adult diseases completely mirror rates of low birth weight and low breastfeeding uptake and duration."
The study also showed that:
- Lower birth weights and shorter duration of breastfeeding predicted higher CRP levels in young adults.
- For each extra pound of birth weight, the CRP level in young adulthood was 5 percent lower.
The benefits of breastfeeding keep adding up, and the World Health Organization describes it as "one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival." The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first 12 months of an infant's life.