WEDNESDAY, July 6 (HealthDay News) -- Hopes that breast-feeding can reduce flare-ups of multiple sclerosis have been dimmed by recent research in Italy.
Researchers at the University of Florence found no support for prior studies connecting breast-feeding with lower disease activity for women with the degenerative nerve disorder commonly known as MS.
Instead, they determined that women who were sicker tended not to breast-feed, leading to the conclusion that some breast-feeding mothers had fewer relapses simply because they were healthier.
"Breast-feeding should not be encouraged as a protective factor without an accurate evaluation of the specific patient characteristics," said Dr. Emilio Portaccio, lead author and neurologist in the university's department of neurology. "Our study is important due to a lack of a consensus on whether breast-feeding should be advised against in order to resume therapy soon after delivery."
Women with MS are cautioned not to take medications while breast-feeding. The findings suggest that nursing may not be possible for women "with high disease activity," said Portaccio. Those women should be counseled that MS drug treatment soon after delivery should be an option, the authors said.
Multiple sclerosis, a progressive autoimmune disorder characterized by deterioration in physical coordination, affects about 400,000 people in the United States. It strikes women twice as often as men, with symptoms varying greatly from one person to another, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Typically, the disease goes into remission, sometimes for long periods of time, and flare-ups during pregnancy are rare, according to the society.
"The reason is not yet fully understood," said Portaccio.
But the effect of pregnancy on the course of the disease is "at best neutral," Portaccio said, noting that other autoimm
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