Sept. 3, 2002 -- One of the biggest health benefits of breastfeeding may not become apparent for many years. A new study suggests adults who were breastfed as infants tend to have lower cholesterol levels than those who were not.
Researchers say the findings add to the growing evidence that artery-clogging processes linked to heart disease may take root well before adulthood.
In the study, British researchers analyzed the effects of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding on cholesterol levels in more than 1,500 teens. They also reviewed the results of similar studies among other age groups.
They found that breastfeeding had very different effects on cholesterol levels at different ages and phases of life. For example, breastfeeding increased both total and LDL "bad" cholesterol levels in infants.
The study showed, however, that breastfeeding's beneficial effect on cholesterol became clear in later years. In seven of the nine studies reviewed, researchers found that adults who were breastfed had total cholesterol levels an average of 7 mg/dL lower then those who'd been bottle-fed.
Study author Christopher G. Owen, PhD, of the department of public health sciences at St. George's Hospital Medical School in London, and colleagues say the study suggests that early exposure to breast milk may determine how the body metabolizes fat later in life. And those who are breastfed are better able to process fat, which in turn lowers overall cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease.
Their study is published in the September issue of Pediatrics.