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Study: Breast-Feeding May Lower Alzheimer's Risk

Could breastfeeding prevent Alzheimer's? A new study says yes.
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Just in time for World Breast-Feeding Week, a UK study has uncovered yet another surprising breast-feeding perk: it could lower your Alzheimer's risk — by two-thirds.

According to the Cambridge University study, researchers spoke with 81 women ranging in age from 70 to 100 and compared their breast-feeding history with both their reproductive history and dementia status. In doing so, they were able to turn up some pretty significant links, despite the fact that the study was a relatively small one.

Of the women surveyed, those who breast-fed their children had a 64 percent less chance of developing Alzheimer's compared to those who didn't breast-feed at all. And the longer the women breast-fed, the lower that risk became. Considering the fact that the devastating cognitive disorder affects 35.6 million people worldwide, this news could be huge.

So what's behind the lowered risk? Experts are still working their way through that one. It could have something to do with the fact that breast-feeding significantly lowers the body's progesterone levels, a hormone that's known to weaken the brain's defenses. Another theory suggests it might be due to the way breast-feeding increases a woman's glucose tolerance, restoring her insulin sensitivity post-birth.

Whatever the case, it's pretty amazing that researchers are getting closer to both understanding the disease and learning more about the benefits of breast-feeding. As the leader of the study, Dr. Molly Fox, told the Cambridge News: "In the future, we expect [Alzheimer's] to spread most in low and middle-income countries. So it is vital that we develop low-cost, large-scale strategies to protect people against this devastating disease."

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