Breast milk may prevent atherosclerosis later in life

August 1, 2004

What a newborn consumes at birth and soon after may permanently shape his or her lipoprotein and cardiovascular profiles, according to the first study to use random assignment of infant diet with prospective follow-up.

The study from England found that at 13 to 16 years of prospective follow-up, adolescents born preterm who received banked breast milk as their sole diet or in addition to their mother's milk had lower C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations and 14% lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol ratios than adolescents who received formula at birth. The researchers also found that greater consumption of human milk in infancy was associated with lower LDL to HDL and apolipoprotein (apo) B to apo A-1 ratios independent of gestational age and potential confounding factors and with reduced CRP concentration later in life.

Because the initial stages of atherosclerosis are strongly related to lipoprotein concentrations in children, breastfeeding in infancy has the potential to protect people from the disease from a young age, to significantly lower cardiovascular mortality, and to do so to a greater extent than dietary interventions in adulthood.

Singhal A, Cole TJ, Fewtrell M, et al. Breastmilk feeding and lipoprotein profile in adolescents born preterm: follow-up of a prospective randomised study. Lancet. 2004;363:1571-1578.