London: Scientists have discovered another reason why breast is best it can lower your blood cholesterol in later life, according to research from St Georges, University of London funded by the British Heart Foundation.
The study discovered that exposure to breast milk in the first months of life may reduce blood cholesterol levels and the risk of developing heart disease in adult life.
The findings are based on a review of data from over 17,000 participants (4,608 were formula-fed and 12,890 were breast-fed) showing adults who had been breastfed had a lower mean total blood cholesterol than those who had been fed formula. It concludes that early exposure to the high cholesterol content of human milk affects long-term cholesterol metabolism, which may modify risk of cardiovascular disease in later life.
The meta-analysis is to be published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritions (ACJN) August edition.
Study author Dr Chris Owen, Epidemiologist at St Georges, University of London, is an expert in cardiovascular risk factors in childhood, and works in the Division of Community Health Sciences.
He says: The paper concludes that initial breastfeeding, particularly when exclusive, is associated with lower blood cholesterol concentrations in later life, compared to initial formula feeding.
Dr Owen said there is substantial evidence to suggest that human milk does provide long-term, protective health benefits, breastfeeding should be advocated, when possible, as the preferred method of feeding in early life.
This study provides further evidence that breast feeding has long-term health benefits. Apart from all its other effects, it appears to lower blood cholesterol in later life. The results also suggest that formula feeds should match the context of breast milk as closely as possible any attempt to reduce the fat content of formula feeds could be counter-productive said Dr Owen.
Primary Article Reference
Owen CG, Whincup PH, Kaye SJ et al. Does initial breastfeeding lead to lower blood cholesterol in adult life? A quantitative review of the evidence. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008; 88:305-314.
About St George’s
St Georges, University of London is the only institution to provide training to a full range of more than 2,600 healthcare and sciences students on one site. As well as providing courses in medicine and biomedical sciences, the college also offers courses in midwifery, nursing, physiotherapy, radiography and social work in conjunction with Kingston University. The school is dedicated to promoting by excellence in teaching, clinical practice and research, the prevention, treatment and understanding of disease. It is extremely active in research and has a high reputation in areas such as infection, diseases of the heart and circulation, cell signalling and epidemiology. Other areas of expertise include genetics, health and social care sciences and mental health.