Breastfeeding may provide blood pressure benefits for children equal to exercise and cutting back on salt.
A new study shows that the longer children are breastfed, the lower their blood pressure readings are up to age 15.
Researchers say the magnitude of this blood pressure-lowering benefit of breastfeeding in this study on children is similar to the benefits of salt restriction and exercise found in other studies of adults.
The results appear in the current issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Breastfeeding Lowers Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is rapidly becoming a concern for the nation's children. The National High Blood Pressure Education Program issued guidelines in 2004 to diagnose and deal with the problem.
Children with blood pressure readings that put them in the 95th or higher percentile for their age range are considered to have hypertension. Children who have blood pressure readings that are in the 90th to 95th percentile for their age have "prehypertension," which means that these children are at risk for developing high blood pressure.
For these children, lifestyle changes should be initiated, but experts says that it is unlikely that exercise and diet alone will be enough to control blood pressure in these children.
Identifying risk becomes an important aspect in working to prevent the disease from occurring.
In the study, researchers looked at the effects of breastfeeding on various aspects of metabolic syndrome in more than 2,000 children aged 9 to 15 from Denmark and Estonia.
Metabolic syndrome refers to a combination of risk factors that have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. This cluster of risks include high blood pressure, prediabetes, high insulin levels, high triglyceride levels, and low "good" HDL cholesterol levels.
Although breastfeeding during infancy did not have an impact on other aspects of metabolic syndrome, the study showed that it had a significant effect on the children's blood pressure.
Children who were exclusively breastfed for at least six months had average blood pressure levels that were 1.7 points lower than those who had never been breastfed. And the longer the children were breastfed, the lower their blood pressure readings were.
Researchers say the blood pressure-lowering benefits of breastfeeding were the same for children in both Estonia and Denmark, despite the different dietary, social, and cultural influences.
They say the beneficial effects of breastfeeding on blood pressure may increase as children get older. The study showed a trend in the benefits of breastfeeding, with the greatest benefit on the blood pressure in older children.
SOURCE: Lawlor, D. Archives of Disease in Childhood, May 24, 2005; vol 90: pp 582-588.