Preventing Alzheimer's disease: Breastfeeding could help mom's brain too

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Breastfeeding could be next recommendation for preventing Alzheimer's disease.

A new study suggests breastfeeding might lower the chances of Alzheimer's disease. We know breastfeeding helps a baby's brain grow and develop to boost IQ. Now a small study shows breastfeeding could be a way to prevent the devastating disease that has no cure.

Mother's that breastfed were compared to those that did not in a small study led by Dr Molly Fox, from the Department of Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

The finding that is published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease suggests biological reasons that breastfeeding can help stop biological changes that occur with the neurological disease that is on the rise and has posed concerns over the toll Alzheimer's disease is expected to take on our health care system as rate of the disease continue to escalate.

A genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's disease was not shown in the study to have as strong a correlation to prevention through breastfeeding, but the researchers say they found a consistent link to lower risk of the disease for all of the 81 women interviewed for the study. Included were women with and without Alzheimer's disease in addition to interviews with relatives, friends and caregivers.

How breastfeeding might thwart Alzheimer's

  • One theory is that breastfeeding keeps estrogen receptors in the brain intact because is lowers levels of the hormone progesterone that become elevated during pregnancy. Scientists believe estrogen plays a role in Alzheimer's disease protection.
  • We also know insulin resistance raises the chances of Alzheimer's disease. Getting glucose to the brain is important for optimal function. Pregnancy induces a state of insulin resistance that breastfeeding quickly reverses.

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Dr. Fox said in a press release, "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."

She adds Alzheimer' disease is expected to spread most in low and middle-income countries, making it important to develop low-cost intervention strategies that offer widespread protection.

Other potential ways to help prevent Alzheimer's disease include:

The finding also showed the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower the risk of Alzheimer's.

The study builds on past research showing the health benefits of breastfeeding to the mother, including slower rates of cognitive decline with aging. It is however the first to link breastfeeding to lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. The study could have a positive impact on public health if larger studies find out breastfeeding could stop Alzheimer's disease from developing or at least lower the chances, especially for anyone with a family history of the disorder.

Journal of Alzheimer's disease
"Maternal Breastfeeding History and Alzheimer's Disease Risk"
doi: 10.3233/JAD-130152
July 23, 2013