There are known to be many benefits from breastfeeding, although several previous studies associating breastfeeding with reduced cardiovascular disease in adulthood have been limited by methodological weaknesses, such as retrospective study design. Atul Singhal from the Institute of Child Health, London, UK, assessed prospectively whether preterm infants who were breastfed were less likely to have markers for atherosclerosis than preterm infants given formula milk.
The investigators followed up 216 teenagers (aged 13-16 years) who had been randomised to different milks in two trials for infant nutrition (breastmilk verses preterm formula, and preterm formula verses term formula) in the early 1980s. Among the measures used at follow-up to assess adolescent lipoprotein profile (an indicator of atherosclerosis risk) was the ratio of 'bad' to 'good' (LDL to HDL) cholesterol, and concentrations of c-reactive protein (CRP, higher concentrations are associated with the development of atherosclerosis).
Those adolescents who had been given breastmilk during infancy had a 14% lower ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol and lower concentrations of CRP than adolescents who had been given formula milk in infancy. A greater proportion of human milk intake in infancy was associated with lower ratios of LDL to HDL cholesterol.
Dr Singhal comments: "The findings of our prospective study suggest that infant nutrition permanently affects the lipoprotein profile later in life, and specifically that breastmilk feeding has a beneficial effect. Furthermore, we have shown a possible benefit of breastmilk compared with formula feeding on later concentration of CRP, a marker of the inflammatory process associated with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease...Our findings suggest that breastmilk feeding has a major beneficial effect on long-term cardiovascular health".
See also Viewpoint: Early origins of cardiovascular disease: is there a unifying hypothesis? (p 1642)
MRC Press Office,
Contact: Stephen Cox, Chief Press Officer, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust and the Institute of Child Health, London, UK;
Lancet 2004; 363: 1571-78; 1642-45