New research carried out in China and detailed in the journal Rheumatology points to a link between breastfeeding and a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), proving that women who breastfeed are less exposed to developing the condition later in life.
The researchers, led by Professor Peymane Adab, collected data from 7,349 Chinese women aged 50 or older. They completed questionnaires to reveal details about their health and lifestyle history, including whether they had been diagnosed with RA and whether they breast-fed and used contraceptives.
The team then analysed the data, establishing that most of the women had at least one live birth and over 95% of them had breast-fed their children for at least one month. Just 11% of the women had ever used a birth control pill and the average age for their first pregnancy was 24, while the mean age for RA diagnosis was 47.5.
The research found that the risk of developing RA among women who breast-fed was 50% lower than that for women who never breast-fed. Women who breast-fed for a longer period of time were even less exposed to the condition. No link between the use of hormone-based oral contraceptives and RA was established.
The researchers commented that the association between breastfeeding and reduced risk of RA highlights the need for additional research in the field to shed light on the hormonal factors that play a role in RA development.