The act of breast-feeding may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in mothers years later according to new research.
The simple act of breast-feeding a child may be beneficial not only to the baby, but also the mother, according to new research out of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California.
Researchers found that breast-feeding for even a few months significantly lowered a woman’s risk of metabolic syndrome.
“The metabolic syndrome is a clustering of risk factors related to obesity and metabolism that strongly predicts future diabetes and possibly coronary heart disease during midlife…” said Dr. Erica Gunderson, epidemiologist and research scientist at Kaiser Permanente.
The research, published December 3 in the journal Diabetes, focused on 1,400 women for a period of 20 years. All the women had never been pregnant and none had signs of metabolic syndrome. The women were given examinations at the start of the study, and then the research team followed up with them 7, 10, 15, and 20 years later.
During the course of the study, 704 women gave birth. By the end of the study, 120 of the women had developed metabolic syndrome. Researchers also documented 84 cases of gestational diabetes.
After examining the data, researchers found that of the women who didn’t develop gestational diabetes, breast-feeding from one to five months reduced the risk of future metabolic syndrome by 39 percent. The reduction of risk was 44 percent in women that developed gestational diabetes.
Breast-feeding for longer than nine months paid greater dividends for mothers. Women without gestational diabetes had a 56 percent reduced risk of metabolic syndrome; women with gestational diabetes had an 86 percent reduced risk.
“We found a very strong protective effect for lactation, and longer duration is associated with a greater risk reduction,” said Gunderson.
Researchers admitted that they didn’t fully understand how breast-feeding protected a woman from cardiovascular issues later in life. Grunderson theorizes that blood sugar is more easily metabolized during breast-feeding sessions, potentially lowering insulin levels.
Dr. Jacob Warman, chief of endocrinology at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City, seemed to agree, telling U.S. News and World Report, “I have a feeling that insulin is the culprit.” As insulin levels weren’t documented during the study, there is likely more research to be done before a direct correlation could be made.