06 November 2007

Breast-fed babies healthier

The list of health benefits to people breast-fed as babies is growing, with research unveiled showing they are more likely as adults to have higher levels of 'good' cholesterol.

The list of health benefits to children who were breast-fed as babies is growing, with research unveiled on Monday showing they are more likely as adults to have higher levels of 'good' cholesterol.

Numerous studies have shown babies whose mothers breast-fed them enjoy health advantages over formula-fed babies.

These include fewer ear, stomach or intestinal infections, digestive problems, skin diseases and allergies and less likelihood of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

A study presented at an American Heart Association meeting found that breast-fed babies are better off in two important heart disease risk factors as adults than bottle-fed babies - levels of 'good' HDL cholesterol and body mass index.

How the study was done
The study looked at 962 people, average age 41, taking part in the long-running Framingham Heart Study centred on Framingham, Massachusetts.

About a quarter of the children were breast-fed for at least a month as babies.

Those who were breast-fed were 55 percent more likely to have high average levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol in adulthood than low levels.

Those who were breast-fed on average had a lower body mass index, or BMI, as adults - 26.1 compared to 26.9 for the 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 protective against cardiovascular disease like stroke and heart attack. People with a lower BMI also have a risk for cardiovascular disease.

Differences are significant
These cholesterol and BMI differences were modest but significant, according to Dr Nisha Parikh of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre 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," Parikh said.

Breast-feeding was not associated with benefits in other heart disease risk factors that 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. – (Will Dunham, ReutersHealth)

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