Researchers studied whether breastfeeding helps in stroke prevention among postmenopausal women and whether this relation differs by race and ethnicity.
Cerebrovascular disease such as stroke affects 5% to 14% of women aged 60 years or above in the United States. Stroke ranks fourth among the leading causes of death among women aged 65 years and above. It is also the third leading cause of death among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black women of 65 years of age and above in the US.
Around 55,000 more American women are affected by stroke annually compared to men. In comparison to elderly men, elderly females who have survived a stroke are at an increased risk of severe disability, and poorer quality of life. Also, the risk of stroke also differs by race and ethnicity. Stroke is reported more among Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks as compared to non-Hispanic Caucasians due to a higher rate of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and physical inactivity.
Breastfeeding has many health benefits for the mother
Research has also shown the protective effects of breastfeeding on maternal health such as a reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and improved heart health. Women who report nine months of total breastfeeding in their reproductive life have fewer chances of developing high blood pressure, high blood lipid levels, and other metabolic diseases.
Further evidence has shown that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with continuation up to one year or longer. However, breastfeeding rates differ by race and ethnicity. They are the lowest among non-Hispanic black women followed by Hispanic women and higher among non-Hispanic white women.
Few studies have been conducted where the effects of breastfeeding have been assessed in stroke prevention. Researchers in the US conducted a study to find out whether breastfeeding results in stroke prevention and whether this relation differs by race or ethnicity, as the breastfeeding rates differ among Hispanic and non-Hispanic black women and non-Hispanic white women. The findings of this study were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Women who had a history of breastfeeding had lower risks of stroke
They obtained data from the WHI Observational Study with a follow-up through 2010. Out of the 80,191 women who had given birth in the WHI Observational Study, 2699 (3.4%) had experienced a stroke with a follow-up for 12.6 years. The average age of the women was 63.7 years. Out of these women, 58% (around 46,699) reported ever breastfeeding, where 83% were non-Hispanic White, 8% were non-Hispanic black, 4% were Hispanic and 5% were of another race or ethnicity. It was observed that in comparison to women who had never breastfed, women who reported ever breastfeeding had a 23% lower risk of stroke. Further, it was observed that breastfeeding even for a short duration (one to six months) was associated with a 19% lower risk of stroke. This relation was stronger with longer duration of breastfeeding and among non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black women.
Thus, it was concluded from the study there was an association and dose-response relationship between breastfeeding and stroke prevention among postmenopausal women, which was the strongest for non-Hispanic Black women. Therefore, increasing public awareness about the impact of breastfeeding on stroke prevention may help in support of initiating and continuing breastfeeding among women who are at a greater risk.
The medical and behavioural science communities may be able to design better culturally informed programs that reduce stroke risk by promoting healthy lifestyle behaviours including breastfeeding among populations who are at higher risk of stroke. Further studies, to investigate the role of breastfeeding in stroke prevention among postmenopausal women are needed.
Written by Pratibha Duggal
Reference: Jacobson, L.T., Hade, E.M., Collins, T.C., Margolis, K.L., Waring, M.E., Van Horn, L.V., Silver, B., Sattari, M., Bird, C.E., Kimminau, K. and Wambach, K., 2018. Breastfeeding History and Risk of Stroke Among Parous Postmenopausal Women in the Women’s Health Initiative. Journal of the American Heart Association, 7(17), p.e008739.