Alzheimer's Breastfeeding: Mothers Who Breastfeed Have Lower Alzheimer's Risk, Study Finds

By iScienceTimes Staff on August 6, 2013 11:52 AM EDT

breastfeeding
Breastfeeding lowers the risk of Alzheimer's in mothers, a new study from the University of Cambridge suggests. (Photo: Flickr: aurimas_m)

Breastfeeding may reduce a mother's risk of getting Alzheimer's, a new study finds.

In the study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers from the University of Cambridge in England looked at 81 British women between the ages of 70 and 100. Women with Alzheimer's were part of this group, and by interviewing the group and their spouses, researchers assembled a breastfeeding, reproductive and dementia history of each woman.

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The researchers found that women who breastfed were 64 percent less likely to have Alzheimer's, and that the longer women breastfed, the lower their risk was. Women who breastfeed for a year were only 78 percent as likely to get Alzheimer's as women who breastfed for 4 months.

While the researchers acknowledged that their sample group was small, they said the differences among women who breastfed and those who didn't were great enough to point to a pattern worth exploring further.

The researchers say that there may be a number of biological reasons behind the Alzheimer's-breastfeeding link.

One reason might be that breastfeeding rids the body of a significant amount of progesterone, a hormone. Progesterone has been found to negatively affect the brain's oestrogen receptors, and scientists think oestrogen may be part of the body's defense against Alzheimer's.

Another of the researcher's theories is that breastfeeding increases glucose tolerance in the body as well as insulin tolerance. The lowering of insulin tolerance, which occurs naturally during pregnancy and may be restored during breastfeeding, can lead to a greater risk of Alzheimer's.

While the Alzheimer's-breastfeeding study is "novel," said James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, more research is clearly needed before scientists can confidently say there is a link there.

"It's interesting to note that it found a consistent link between this feeding technique and Alzheimer's disease," said Pickett. "However, it was a small study which doesn't explore why the two are associated. It is too premature to make recommendations for mothers regarding breastfeeding and their risk of dementia."

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