Mothers who breastfeed may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as they age, Medical Daily reported.
In a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers from the University of Cambridge interviewed 81 women between the ages of 70 and 100 – as well as their families and friends – about the women’s reproductive history, breastfeeding habits and history of dementia. Some of the participants had already developed Alzheimer’s before the study period.
The researchers found that women who had breastfed their infants had a significantly lower risk of developing the neurodegenerative disease – especially if they had no history of dementia in their families. Those with a family history of the disease still benefited from breastfeeding, but to a lesser degree.
According to the researchers, breastfeeding could be a cheap and easy way to prevent Alzheimer’s in women.
"Alzheimer's is the world's most common cognitive disorder and it already affects 35.6 million people,” the study’s lead author Dr. Molly Fox, from the department of biological anthropology at the University of Cambridge, said in a press release. “In the future, we expect it to spread most in low and middle-income countries. So it is vital that we develop low-cost, large-scale strategies to protect people against this devastating disease.”
While Fox’s team did not study the biological mechanisms behind breastfeeding’s effects on the brain, it is possible that the relationship revolves around the body’s resistance to insulin. One of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is insulin resistance, and breastfeeding is known to restore insulin tolerance in women, as mothers sometimes become insulin-resistant during pregnancy.
"Women who spent more time pregnant without a compensatory phase of breastfeeding therefore may have more impaired glucose tolerance, which is consistent with our observation that those women have an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease," Fox said.