According to a new study, women who have been breastfeeding for longer periods of time and have breastfed more than one baby are less likely to suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure).
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The study, which was published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Hypertension, showed a relationship between the amount of time a woman has breastfed during her lifetime and her risk of hypertension. The correlation, however, does not apply to obese women.
Hypertension is characterized by persistently raised blood pressure that does not cause overt symptoms but may increase the risk of developing other conditions and death.
Long term breast feeding has been studied in several large studies to assess its beneficial effects both for the mother and the baby.
For example, long-term breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of children developing allergies, becoming obese, and developing chronic diseases such as diabetes. Suggested benefits for mothers include rapid weight loss and return to pre-pregnancy shape.
This is the first study, however, to demonstrate a relationship between long term breast feeding and a reduced risk high blood pressure.
The research included 3,119 women who had already had their menopause and were over 50 years of age, as part of the 2010-2011 Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Each woman was asked to detail the number of months she had breastfed and the number of babies she had breastfed.
The researchers observed that in women who were not obese, the duration of breastfeeding directly correlated with reduction in risk of developing high blood pressure.
Women who breastfed the most number of children (between 5 and 11) showed a 51 percent lower risk of high blood pressure compared to women who breast fed none or only one baby.
Women who breastfed for the longest duration (96 to up to 324 months) showed a 45 percent lower risk of developing hypertension compared to those who fed for the shortest duration.
Researchers speculated that the results could be due to alterations in metabolism during breastfeeding. This decreases the risk of insulin resistance, obesity and other obesity related diseases such as high blood pressure.
Another suggestion could be the hormone oxytocin, that is produced by the mother during breastfeeding.
Our findings endorsed the current recommendations for breastfeeding for the benefit of maternal health in mothers' later lives"
Nam-Kyong Choi, Lead Author and Researcher in the Department of Health Convergence, Ewha Womans University