Women are at greater risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis compared to men. Although it’s unknown what causes this painful disease, there may be something women can do to lower this risk: breastfeeding their children.
Long-heralded for its health benefits to babies, breastfeeding is also linked with lowering a woman’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes and postpartum depression. In a new study, researchers recently found women in China who breastfed were about half as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis compared to women who did not breastfeed. And, the longer a woman breastfed her children, the study found, the more her risk dropped.
It’s important to note that the study does not prove a cause-and-effect link but simply shows an association between breastfeeding and lowering the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
The study included data from more than 7,300 women in China who were 50 years of age or older. More than 95 percent of those with children said they had breastfed for at least one month. The study was published online in the journal Rheumatology.
Rheumatoid arthritis is different than other forms of arthritis such as osteoarthritis. It is an autoimmune disease that causes severe pain, swelling and stiffness. It can mean loss of function in the joints.
Doctors cannot say what causes rheumatoid arthritis. Many believe it is affected by genetics, hormones and environmental issues, according to federal health authorities.
Source: Oxford University Press news release, National Institutes of Health
+ Read more about treating rheumatoid arthritis.
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