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Breastfeeding May Help Reduce Midlife Atherosclerosis

Unknown whether these women will have lower rates of myocardial infarction, stroke as they age

THURSDAY, July 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Young women who breastfeed may have a reduced risk of early subclinical atherosclerosis during midlife, compared with those who bottle feed their babies, according to research published in the August issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The findings are based on 846 U.S. women who, in the 1980s, enrolled in a long-term study of cardiovascular health. They were between the ages of 18 and 30 at the time. All of the women underwent ultrasound scans of the carotid artery 20 years after entering the study.

The researchers found that, on average, women who had breastfed their babies for one month, or not at all, had higher common carotid intima-media thickness. Those who had breastfed for 10 months or longer had lower common carotid intima-media thickness.

“Pregnancy is an incredibly stressful physiologic process,” lead researcher Erica Gunderson, Ph.D., M.P.H., of Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s division of research in Oakland, told HealthDay. “It puts greater demands on the cardiovascular and metabolic systems.” Breastfeeding, she said, may help “reset” those systems after pregnancy.

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