For the current study, the researchers recruited almost 1,400 women into a prospective, multi-center study designed to assess what factors increase the risk of coronary artery disease. At the start of the study in 1985, none of the women had been pregnant before, and none had metabolic syndrome.
The women were examined at the start of the study, and again at 7, 10, 15 and 20 years after the start of the study.
While participating in the study, 704 of the women had babies. During pregnancy, 84 women developed gestational diabetes. During the study follow-up, 120 women developed metabolic syndrome.
Of those who developed metabolic syndrome, the average duration of breast-feeding was 2.6 months, while the average time breast-feeding for women who didn't develop metabolic syndrome was seven months, according to the study.
"We found a very strong protective effect for lactation, and longer duration is associated with a greater risk reduction," said Gunderson.
Although the researchers didn't study exactly how breast-feeding could confer a benefit against heart disease so many years later, they suspect that women who breast-feed are benefiting from higher good cholesterol levels and less accumulation of belly fat. Both of these are factors in metabolic syndrome. Additionally, Gunderson said that breast-feeding helps with the metabolism of blood sugar, which may lower their levels of insulin.
And, that's probably what's protecting these women, suggested Dr. Jacob Warman, chief of endocrinology at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City. "I have a
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