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Breastfeeding and CRP in adulthood

None of us need further convincing of the benefits of breastfeeding to children's health. But can this extend long into adult life? The adult literature is full of studies demonstrating convincingly that chronic minor elevations of blood C-reactive protein (CRP) levels are an excellent predictor of major health problems such as atheroma, ischaemic heart disease and stroke. A massive longitudinal cohort study from the US related breastfeeding history to CRP levels at age 24–32 years (McDade T. Proc R Soc B 2014; doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.3116). The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health had data on nearly 10 500 participants. Lower birthweight was associated with higher CRP levels as predicted by the Barker hypothesis. But the findings on breast-feeding were also striking: those breastfed for over 12 months had CRP levels 31% lower than those never breastfed, with a ‘dose-response’ trend seen for those breastfed for shorter periods. Of course there were many confounding factors, but they were able to allow for most of these in their complex analyses. They also compared siblings discordant for breastfeeding duration, where ethnic, socioeconomic and genetic factors are automatically controlled for: there was still a small but significant independent effect.

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