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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May, 2005, 23:38 GMT 00:38 UK
Breast milk lowers blood pressure
Image of breastfeeding
UJ breastfeeding rates are relatively low
Being breastfed as a baby has a beneficial impact on blood pressure, a study suggests.

Researchers found it was as good for children's blood pressure as exercise and cutting salt intake is for adults.

And the longer a baby was breastfeed, the more impact it had on the child's blood pressure.

The study, of more than 2,000 children by the University of Bristol, is published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The researchers studied children from Denmark and Estonia to try to establish whether there was a relationship between breastfeeding and a range of conditions which can lead to coronary heart disease.

Systolic blood pressure
First measure given in a blood pressure reading
It represents the force of the blood as the heart contracts (beats) to pump it around the body.
High systolic blood pressure defined as 140 mm Hg or higher
High blood pressure can cause stroke, heart attacks, kidney failure and severe circulation problems
There did not appear to be any impact on some of the conditions examined.

But children who had been exclusively breastfed as babies did seem to have lower blood pressure.

The pattern could be seen in both countries, irrespective of the differences in diet and social conditions between the two.

After taking account of children's differing heights, weights and stages of development, the researchers found babies who had been exclusively breastfed for at least six months had a systolic blood pressure reading on average 1.7mm Hg lower than those who had not.

By comparison cutting salt is thought to reduce adults' systolic blood pressures by around 1.3mm Hg and physical activity by around 0.7mm Hg.

The impact of breastfeeding on blood pressure also appeared to be more marked the longer babies were breastfed.

The researchers said their findings suggested a direct causal link between breastfeeding and lower blood pressure in older children.

Important nutrients

The reason why breast milk may provide better protection against high blood pressure is unknown.

But researchers suspect that long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are present in breast milk, but not in most formula feeds, may play a key role in healthy development.

Breastfeeding is also thought to help protect babies against infection.

Research suggests it may also reduce the risk of osteoporosis and ovary cancer in mothers.

The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe. A third of mothers never attempt it.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), said: "This research adds to a growing body of evidence which shows that breastfeeding helps to reduce systolic blood pressure in children.

"It also gives mothers who decide to breastfeed more firm evidence that breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed a baby.

"The long-term impact of breastfeeding on the public health of the population in the UK is known to be significant - if more mothers were enabled to breastfed their children, thousands of deaths could be prevented in the future."

Alcohol 'bad for breastfeeding'
06 Apr 05 |  Health

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