Breastfeeding Fends Off Breast Cancer

Feb 6, 2009 | By: Christie Wilcox

Featured

Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby.  Human milk is ideally formulated to be the perfect food for our infants. But did you know breastfeeding is just as healthy for Mom, too? Not only does it help you bond with your child, it may just prevent breast cancer later in life.

Breastfeeding, The Logo - by Topinambour, flickr

Breastfeeding, The Logo - by Matt Daigle

The causal link between breastfeeding and reduced rates of breast cancer has been known for a while, but no one knew exactly how it worked.  Scientists only knew that women who breast fed their children were less likely to develop breast cancer later in life. Now, researchers out of Thomas Jefferson University may have found the key link that explains how breastfeeding prevents breast cancer.

The CAV-3 Connection

The team studied mice that were given human mammary tissue.  They wanted to see how certain compounds affected development of the tissues, lactation and cancer risk.  They found that when a certain gene, CAV-3, was knocked out of these mice, they developed normal tissues but lactated longer.

This CAV-3 gene is responsible for producing caveolin-3, a muscle-specific compound that integrates with cell membranes.  Exactly what caveolins do is under investigation, but irregularities in caveolin-3 have been linked to muscular dystrophy.  One thing is known, however – that caveolins relate to cancer.  Caveolins seem to make cancers more pathogenic, and research has found increased caveolin-3 levels in cancerous testicles.

The Thomas Jefferson University team also found a link to cancer.  When they tried to infect the CAV-3 knockout mice with breast and lung cancers, they were much more resistant than the regular mice.  So deficiency in caveolin-3 not only meant more breastfeeding, it also meant less cancer.

Mice don’t choose to breastfeed for long periods of time but we humans do.  In humans, it’s thus very likely that the act of breastfeeding reduces caveolin-3 levels in breast tissue, helping fend off breast cancer.  Breastfeeding for up to 2 years may be an easy way to reduce your risks.

Breastfeeding: The Benefits

Saving Benjamins

Saving Benjamins

Of course, breastfeeding is a good idea anyway, and not nearly enough women do it for as long as they should.  For one, it’s economical.  It would save an estimated $3.6 billion if women in the U.S. increased their breastfeeding to recommended levels.

Secondly, mothers don’t only benefit by reduced cancer risks.  Milk costs your body calories, so breastfeeding helps you shed the extra pregnancy pounds.  It releases happy chemicals into the brain, improving your overall mood and helping you bond with your child.  And it prolongs the time when you aren’t able to get pregnant again, which has other health benefits as well as giving you some time off.

But most importantly, it’s the healthiest way to feed your baby for the first two years of his or her life. Breast milk provides perfect nutrition for growing infants, meaning they’re healthier (.pdf Link).  Breastfed children have lower rates of diarrhea and infections when young, and a decreased risk of obesity, allergies, diabetes, hypertension and even certain cancers as they get older.  The benefits of breast cancer are so staggering that some research even suggests that in undeveloped countries, infant mortality rates would be dramatically reduced by breast feeding that the potential benefits outweighs the risks of doing so while HIV positive.

The World Health Organization recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for at least the first six months of life, and preferably with other types of food for two years. A mother should continue to breastfeed as long as she wants – and as long as she and the baby both desire to do so. The recommendation is similar from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In other words, it’s a really, really, really good idea to breastfeed your baby as long as possible, for them and for you.  Not only is it good for the baby, it might just keep you around longer to watch them grow up.

  • Topinambour

    Hi, in fact the credit for the international breastfeeding logo should go to Matt Daigle, not me.

  • Topinambour

    Hi, in fact the credit for the international breastfeeding logo should go to Matt Daigle, not me.

  • http://www.nutritionwonderland.com John Serrao

    Thanks – we will update it.

  • http://www.nutritionwonderland.com John Serrao

    Thanks – we will update it.

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