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Breastfeeding and early periods reduce the risk of developing MS

Breastfeeding may have protective effects against MS.

Women who breastfed for 15 months were less at risk of developing MS. iStock
Mothers who breastfeed for longer may have a lower risk of developing MS afterwards, scientists have shown. These benefits are seen when they breastfeed for 15 months or more.

MS is a chronic autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system turns against the body, in this case attacking the myelin sheath that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord.

It is thought that reproductive factors can play a role in the way the disease evolves over time. A number of recent studies have shown that the levels of sex hormones and the use of oral contraceptives can influence women's risk of developing the disease.

MS has been shown to affect mostly women during their childbearing years - it is rare that it develops before puberty or after menopause. Furthermore, women with MS are less likely to relapse during pregnancy or while they breastfeed.

"Many experts have suggested that the levels of sex hormones are responsible for these findings, but we hypothesised that the lack of ovulation may play a role, so we wanted to see if having a longer time of breastfeeding or fewer total years when a woman is ovulating could be associated with the risk of MS," said Annette Langer-Gould, member of the American Academy of Neurology, in a statement.

Research into the effects of breastfeeding has been particularly interesting to scientists because it is an easily modifiable factor, with other reported maternal health benefits.

In a study now published in the journal Neurology, Langer-Gould and colleagues have investigated whether breastfeeding could not only prevent MS relapse, but also reduce mothers' risk of developing MS for those women who have never been diagnosed with the disease.

The scientists recruited 397 women with an average age of 37 for their study. They had been newly diagnosed with MS or its precursor, clinically isolated syndrome. They were compared to 433 women matched for race and age. All the participants filled in questionnaires regarding pregnancies, breastfeeding, hormonal contraceptive use and other reproductive factors (including the age they first got their periods or any absence of menstruation at some point in their lives).

The researchers analyse the collected data and discovered that women who had breastfed for a cumulative amount with one or more children for 15 months or more were 53% less likely to develop MS compared with women breastfed for four months or less in total.

"This study provides more evidence that women who are able to breastfeed their infants should be supported in doing so," Langer-Gould said. "Among the many other benefits to the mother and the baby, breastfeeding may reduce the mother's future risk of developing MS."

They also identified a connection between age at menstruation and risk of developing MS. Indeed, they found that women who were age 15 or older at the time of their first menstrual cycle were 44% less likely to develop MS later than women who were 11 years old or younger at the time of their first menstruation.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by INTERNATIONALBUSINESSTIMES
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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