Breastfeeding can reduce Alzheimer's risk

A study from the University of Cambridge has concluded that the biological effects of breastfeeding may help prevent Alzheimer's disease.  When a woman is pregnant, her insulin tolerance can be reduced, a characteristic that is also present in Alzheimer's.  However, breastfeeding is known to restore insulin tolerance and that may provide insight into fighting Alzheimer’s.  While previous studies had established that breastfeeding can reduce a woman’s  risk of developing some diseases, this is the first to link nursing and risk of cognitive decline later in life.

For this study, the authors interviewed 81 British women aged 70 to 100.  Some women had Alzheimer's and some did not, and the women were asked about their reproductive histories, including experiences with breastfeeding.  Despite the small number of patients analyzed, there was a clear link between breastfeeding and Alzheimer's.  When controlled for other potential variables, women who breastfed showed a reduced risk of the cognitive disease.  The study also found that longer breastfeeding history was associated with lowered risk, and women who had a higher ratio of total months pregnant to total months breastfeeding over the course of their lives had a higher Alzheimer's risk.

One theory is that breastfeeding deprives the body of the hormone progesterone, compensating for high levels of progesterone which are produced during pregnancy. Progesterone is known to desensitize the brain's oestrogen receptors, and oestrogen may play a role in protecting the brain against Alzheimer's.

Another possibility is that breastfeeding increases a woman's glucose tolerance by restoring her insulin sensitivity after pregnancy.

Despite the findings, the trends were less pronounced when the patient had a family history of dementia.

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