Breastfeeding is as good for children's blood pressure as exercise and dietary salt restriction

Breastfeeding is as good for children's blood pressure as exercise and dietary salt restriction, according to research from Bristol University published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. The longer the period of breastfeeding, the lower the blood pressure reading, the research found.

The research team, led by Dr Debbie Lawlor of the University's Department of Social Medicine, assessed the impact of breastfeeding on elements of the metabolic syndrome in over 2000 randomly chosen children from two different countries (Denmark & Estonia), aged between 9 and 15.

The metabolic syndrome comprises a constellation of conditions that predispose to a high risk of coronary artery disease. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, high insulin levels, high triglyceride levels and low "good" (HDL) cholesterol levels.

Breastfeeding did not have an impact on all elements of the metabolic syndrome. But children who had been exclusively breastfed had lower systolic blood pressure than those who had not.

This was the same for children in both countries, despite the different social, cultural, and dietary factors at play

Systolic blood pressure refers to the maximum arterial pressure during the contraction of the heart. It is the first number given in any blood pressure reading, such as 120 over 80.

After adjusting for all the other factors likely to influence the results, such as weight, height, and puberty, the average difference between children who had been exclusively breastfed for at least 6 months and those who had not was 1.7 mm Hg.

And the longer a child had been exclusively breastfed, the lower was his or her systolic blood pressure.

The effect may increase as a child ages, because the results showed that the greatest impact was on the older children, although the figures were not statistically significant.

The extent of the impact and the strong effect of duration of exclusive breastfeeding led the authors to conclude that breastfeeding is directly related to lower systolic blood pressure.

"The magnitude of the effect we found with blood pressure is comparable to the published effects of salt restriction and physical activity on blood pressure in adult populations, suggesting that it is of public health importance," they conclude.


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