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Breastfeeding 'could help mothers to avoid rheumatoid arthritis'

Published on 07 January 2014
Breastfeeding 'could help mothers to avoid rheumatoid arthritis'

The act of breastfeeding could provide previously undocumented protection against the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, according to new research.

Led by Professor Peymane Adab and colleagues, the study assessed more than 7,000 older Chinese women in the Guangzhou Biobank Cohort to evaluate this trend, with questionnaires used to determine the women's medical histories and lifestyles.

Results published in the medical journal Rheumatology revealed that among women who had at least one live birth, those who had breastfed their child were around half as likely to have rheumatoid arthritis as those who had never breastfed.

Moreover, there was a statistically significant trend of decreasing risk of rheumatoid arthritis with increased duration of breastfeeding.

The report authors wrote: "This is the first study to demonstrate a link between breastfeeding and a lower risk of RA in a Chinese population, where breastfeeding is common practice and more prevalent than in many Western populations."

It has long been understood that breastfeeding provides various health benefits for both mother and child, but previous studies on the association between breastfeeding and rheumatoid arthritis have delivered mixed results.

This new study provides useful insights into this link, as historically breastfeeding has been common practice in China and is much more prevalent than in many Western populations.

According to the report authors, the conclusions of this study hints at the potential need for further research into the hormonal mechanisms involved in the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.

A spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK commented: "The results of this study are interesting. We know that  women with rheumatoid arthritis find that their arthritis goes into remission during pregnancy and flares up again after the birth, which means they may be unable to breastfeed because the drugs will be passed to the newborn baby through breast milk.
"We're not sure why this occurs but it may have something to do with a woman's body producing a lot of natural steroids while they are pregnant," she added. "We need to understand better the role of hormones in RA in women."

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