Breastfeeding is beneficial in so many ways. A new study confirms that breastfeeding in infancy is protective against bowel diseases later in life.
Those who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) know how debilitating it can be. This chronic autoimmune disease attacks the digestive system and often causes pain, unintended weight loss, malnourishment, embarrassing social situations, and in severe cases, hospitalization. While there are several types of IBD, the most common are Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
The incidence of IDB is multiplying and quickly becoming a signifcant public health concern. While once thought a problem of Western societies, the illness is growing throughout developing countries. The CDC estimates that 1.3 people in the United States suffer from IBD, and it affects as many as 5 million people worldwide.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard University have confirmed that individuals who are breastfed as infants face a significantly lower risk of developing inflammatory bowel diseases later in life than those who were not breastfed. More, the longer a baby is nursed, the more protective the effect.
The new study published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics is a systematic review with a meta-analysis examining 35 studies that involved over 15,000 people who have either ulcerative colitis(UC) or Crohn’s disease (CD).
According to IBD News Today, the study found that breastfed babies had a 26% less overall chance of developing IBD later in life than those who were not breastfed, with ulcerative colitis decreasing by 22% and Crohn’s disease declining by 29%.
While any introduction of breastfeeding was shown to be protective against IBD later in life, those who were breastfed for 12 months or longer had an impressively lower chance of developing UC or CD. In fact, the risk of developing Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis was decreased by approximately 80% for those breastfed for at least a year.
The subjects of the studies came from all over the world, and the benefit of breastfeeding was shown to be universal. However, the magnitude of breastfeeding protection was much higher for Asians compared to Caucasians. Asian’s who were breastfed had a nearly 70% lower risk of ulcerative colitis.
The researchers did not discuss exclusive breastfeeding or the cause of the protective measures of breastmilk, although they suggest that the antibacterial components and the antibodies in the milk may boost immunity. Breastfeeding advocates believe that exclusive breastmilk helps to seal the permeable gut of an infant.
Whatever the cause of the protective measure, with inflammatory bowel diseases on the risk, breastfeeding is one way to help protect our children from these life-altering diseases.