Study: Being Breastfed Links to Lower Inflammation

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One of AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention is that mothers breastfeed their babies, with research showing that being breastfed can help reduce future cancer risk by helping the baby stay a healthy weight as an adult. Now a recent study suggests a new way in which breastfeeding may offer protection from cancer as well as other diseases, finding that young adults who were breastfed have a lower risk of chronic inflammation compared to those not breastfed.Mother And Baby Breast Feeding

There is a growing body of research suggesting inflammation increases the risk of many chronic diseases, including some cancers. Overweight and obesity, a risk factor for eight cancers, may produce a low level state of chronic inflammation.

AICR also recommends breastfeeding because research suggests it protects mothers against breast cancer. With August being National Breastfeeding Month, the study adds another potential benefit to the many recognized positives of breastfeeding.

Study authors used data from almost 7,000 participants who were part of national study on adolescent health. Twenty years ago, the participants were teenagers going to middle and high school.  They, and many of their parents were interviewed. Then in 2007-2008, when the participants were 24–32 years old, their levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) were measured from a blood sample. CRP is a marker of inflammation.

Almost half the participants were breastfed for some amount of time. Overall, the longer infants were breastfed the lower their levels of CRP as young adults. Individuals breastfed for three months or longer had substantially lower CRP concentrations compared to those never breastfed. The link lessened but still held after adjusting for birth weight, waist circumference and other risk factors.

Study researchers did not look at diet or weight, but adult waist circumference is one measure of excess body fat and previous research suggests breastfeeding may play a role in abdominal fat. Using a statistical model, the authors calculated that adult waist circumference accounted for roughly a third to half of the association between adult CRP levels and breastfeeding, depending upon how long the breastfeeding lasted.

The study also found that birth weights above 5.5 to 6.2 pounds linked to higher levels of CRP, compared to lower birth weights.

Breast milk may have lasting effects on inflammation by shaping regulatory and metabolic pathways that play a role in body fat, the authors hypothesize. And while this study supports others that have similar findings, more research is needed.

For more on breastfeeding and cancer visit our Tell Me About page.

This project was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health.


Author: Mya Nelson

Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

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