A recent study has found that babies who are not breastfed are at higher risk of suffering chronic inflammation in adulthood. This increases their chances of disability, disease and early death.
The research has also shown that continuous inflammation throughout the body is linked to low birth weight. Chronic inflammation is the cause of a hyperactive immune system and has been linked to strokes, heart disease, disability in later life and type-2 diabetes. It also places the person at a higher risk of death.
The results of the research indicated that levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a blood marker for inflammation, increased during adulthood if breastfeeding during infancy was shortened.
It was found that being breastfed for below three months reduced the CRP level by one fifth, compared to not being breastfed at all. Having been breastfed for a period between three and six months lowered the levels by 26.7%, for between six to 12 months lowered it by 29.6%, and for longer than 12 months, it was lowered by 29.8%.
The effect of these periods of breastfeeding was similar to that of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. These drugs are known to reduce CRP.
The findings indicated that CRP was about 9.2% higher for babies with a weight of 2.8 kilograms than for those born one kilogram heavier.
The research was undertaken by Northwestern University in the U.S, with around 7000 males and females aged between 24 and 32 participating. Less than half of the participants had been breastfed for any period of time as babies.
Dr Thomas McDade and his team have said that the research results provide evidence that shorter breastfeeding durations and lower birth weight both indicate higher levels of CRP in early adulthood. This indicates a higher risk of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases which are both huge health burdens in both the UK and the US.
He stated that clinical trials have indicated statin therapy is able to reduce CRP by 14.8% to 17.4% in healthy adults. The results obtained from the effects breastfeeding have on adult CRP has shown to be comparable or greater.
The scientists have stated that being fed breast milk may increase the effects on inflammation by forming biological pathways during important phases of immune development.
The Department of Health has recommended that babies should receive only breast milk during the first six months of their lives. After this period, it is recommended that mothers introduce solid food alongside breast milk until the baby enters his or her second year.
The researchers concluded that the efforts being made to improve the outcome of births and increase the duration of breastfeeding may result in a reduction of chronic inflammation levels in early adulthood.
Image Credit: Nate Davis