Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Researchers find more breast milk benefits

The list of health benefits for people who were breastfed as babies is growing, with research unveiled this week showing they are more likely as adults to have higher levels of good cholesterol.

Numerous studies have shown babies whose mothers breastfed them enjoy health advantages over formula-fed babies. These include fewer ear, stomach and intestinal infections, fewer digestive problems, skin diseases and allergies, and less likelihood of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

Now, a study presented at an American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla., found that breastfed babies are better off than bottle-fed babies in two heart disease risk factors as adults - levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and body mass index.

The study looked at 962 people, average age 41, taking part in the long-running Framingham Heart Study centred on Framingham, Mass. About a quarter of the children were breastfed for at least a month as babies.

Those who were breastfed were 55 per cent more likely to have high average levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol in adulthood than low levels. Those who were breastfed on average had a lower BMI as adults - 26.1 compared to 26.9 for their bottle-fed counterparts. Adults with a BMI above 25 are considered overweight and at higher risk for heart disease.

Having a higher HDL is considered to protect against cardiovascular disease such as stroke and heart attack.

These cholesterol and BMI differences were modest but significant, according to Nisha Parikh of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston who led the study. "The results are intriguing in that they point to this concept that early nutrition or early environmental exposures may affect long-term health," she said.

Breastfeeding was not associated with benefits in other heart disease risk factors the researchers examined, including total cholesterol and blood pressure. The mothers of all the people tracked in the research were also part of the Framingham study.