Children who are not breastfed are more at risk of suffering from a disease or dying early, a study has found.
Not receiving milk from their mother makes babies more likely to suffer from chronic inflammation as adults, increasing their chances of disease, disability and early death, it said.
On-going body-wide inflammation is also associated with low birth weight, the same research showed.
Chronic inflammation, caused by a hyperactive immune system, has been linked to heart disease, strokes, type-2 diabetes, late-life disability, and a greater risk of dying. The condition is a natural response by the body’s immune system but prolonged inflammation occurs when no infectious substances are present.
The new research found that adult levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammation blood marker, rose with shorter durations of breastfeeding in infancy.
Compared with receiving no mothers’ milk at all, being breastfed for less than three months reduced CRP levels by a fifth. Breastfeeding for three to six months lowered CRP levels by 26.7 per cent, six to 12 months by 29.6 per cent, and more than 12 months by 29.8 per cent.
The effect was at least the same as that produced by treatment with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
Higher birth weight was also associated with lower CRP for individuals who weighed more than 2.5kg.
CRP was 9.2 per cent greater for those weighing in at 2.8kg than for those born a kilogram heavier.
The findings, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, come from a US study of almost 7,000 US men and women aged 24 to 32. Less than half the participants (44.8 per cent) were breastfed for any length of time as infants.
Dr Thomas McDade, from Northwestern University and his team of researchers wrote: “We present evidence that lower birth weight and shorter durations of breastfeeding both predict elevated concentrations of CRP in young adulthood, indicating increased risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases that are major health burdens in the US and the UK.
“Clinical trials have demonstrated that statin therapy reduces CRP in healthy adults by 14.8 per cent to 17.4 per cent. Our results suggest that the effects of breastfeeding on adult CRP are comparable, or larger, in magnitude.”
The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a baby’s life.
Thereafter, mothers are encouraged to continue feeding with breast milk alongside solid food into at least their baby’s second year.
Cost blocks breast cancer drug
A new drug for breast cancer which extends women’s lives by almost six months is to be blocked from routine NHS access.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence said Kadcyla can cost more than £90,000 per patient and is not effective enough to justify the price.
The watchdog, which decides which new medicines are cost effective, said its guidance for the drug was in draft form and is now up for public consultation.