Rheumatoid arthritis risk in women may be reduced through breastfeeding, according to research. The study, which included over 7,000 older Chinese women, found that breastfeeding was associated with a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis. The risk was cut by half, compared to women who never breastfed.
It has been long known that breastfeeding offers numerous benefits to both mother and child, but previous research has come up with mixed conclusions on breastfeeding and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This time, researchers completed a cross-sectional study to assess the relationship between rheumatoid arthritis, breastfeeding, and the use of oral contraceptives.
The researchers used data from 7,349 older Chinese women over the age of 50. The women answered questionnaires pertaining to their sociodemographic history, disease and lifestyle history, obstetric history, breastfeeding history, and history of oral contraceptive use. The women were also asked whether they had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and were inspected by trained nurses for any swelling or tenderness.
The majority of women had at least one live birth and 95 percent of those women breastfed for at least a month. Only 11 percent of women used oral contraceptives, and the mean age for rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis was 47.5.
The researchers found in women who had at least one live birth, breastfeeding reduced their risk of rheumatoid arthritis by half. Rheumatoid arthritis risk was further reduced by the duration of breastfeeding. No correlation was found between the use of oral contraceptives and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
The researchers concluded, “Women who took part in this study were born in the 1940s and 1950s, before China’s one-child policy was introduced in the late 1970s, and at a time when breastfeeding was more prevalent. The consequent decline in breastfeeding supports the need for prospective studies to examine whether there will be a higher incidence of RA in the future. More importantly, replication of the association between breastfeeding and lower risk of RA in a different population reinforces the need for further research to understand the hormonal mechanisms involved in the onset of RA.”
Connection between rheumatoid arthritis and breastfeeding
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, and studies have pointed to breastfeeding as a means to reduce a woman’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, some women experience relief from their symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis while breastfeeding.
Numerous studies have pointed to the fact that breastfeeding can help reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis as a result of hormonal changes. Even if a woman has rheumatoid arthritis, or any other autoimmune disease, breastfeeding is still considered safe as the condition cannot be passed on through breast milk.
You probably already know that breastfeeding is beneficial for your baby, but you may be more inclined to breastfeed now that you can benefit and reduce your risk of rheumatoid arthritis, too.