Mothers who breast-feed for more than a year are around 50% less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis according to a new study published this month in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Malmo University Hospital in Sweden, compared 136 individuals who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis to 544 women who were free of the illness.
The researchers found that when compared to not breast-feeding at all, breastfeeding for between one month and a year reduced rheumatoid arthritis risk by 26% while breast feeding for more than 13 months cut the risk by 54%.
The authors noted that the study was quite small and further research is required to establish the link between breastfeeding and rheumatoid arthritis.
The results of this study are actually in contrast with others which have found a slight increase in arthritis risk amongst breast-feeding mothers.
Breast-feeding raises the levels of certain hormones that may have both positive and negative effects on arthritis risk. The hormone prolactin for example is known to stimulate the immune system and may increase arthritis risk in the short term because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease.
The percentage of mothers who breast-feed is currently increasing however most stop well before the baby reaches one year of age. Around 75% of mothers start out by breast-feeding with 40% still breast-feeding when the child is six months of age. Just 20% of mothers breast-feed for more than a year.
The researchers also looked at use of the oral contraceptive pill and the risk of arthritis but failed to find a significant link between the two.
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