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Longer Term Breast-feeding Reduces the Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women

A recent research has shown that longer term breast-feeding protects mothers from the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis .

According to new data presented at EULAR 2007, the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology in Barcelona, Spain, breast-feeding for a period of thirteen months or more is associated with a lesser rheumatoid arthritis (RA) risk in mothers.

The study demonstrated that the longer the breast feeding period, the lower the mothers risk of developing RA in later life. Simultaneously, the study also found that comparable use of oral contraceptives (OCs) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) did not show a considerable effect on the risk of developing RA.

Whilst other studies suggest that hormonal factors play a part in the development of RA, and we know that pregnancy can result in an improvement in RA symptoms, we wanted to investigate the long term effect of breast-feeding, Lead researcher Dr Mitra Keshavarz, of Malm Hospital University, Sweden, said.

This study specifically highlights the potential of naturally-induced hormones in protecting individuals from developing RA in the future. Furthermore, it adds to the growing body of evidence in favour of breast feeding and its positive health implications this time demonstrating its protective benefits for the mother, Dr Keshavarz added.

The study found that breast-feeding for 13 or more months was associated with a reduced risk of developing RA. For women with between 1 and 12 months history of breast feeding, the odds ratio was 0.74, with a 95% confidence interval compared directly to those who had never breast fed.

The data was taken from a community-based health study incorporating information from the Swedish National Hospital Discharge and the National Cause of Death Register between 1991 and 1996, comparing health information from 136 women who later developed RA with that of 544 controls. Information on the use of OCs, HRT and other lifestyle factors was derived from a self-administered questionnaire and analysed by a team from Malm University Hospital, Sweden.

All females with RA utilised in the case control group of the study were diagnosed according to the 1987 American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria for RA. Individuals were matched with four female controls for every case. Controls were identified as those alive and free from diagnosed RA when the index individual was diagnosed with RA.

The median age of the onset of RA in the sample population was 63.3 years, with an average length of 5.5 years between enrolment in the study and onset of RA.


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