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Asthma risk appears lower in breastfed babies

July 25, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Breastfeeding may help protect against asthma symptoms such as wheezing and coughing in young children, a study by researchers in the Netherlands suggests.
Breastfeeding may help protect against asthma symptoms such as wheezing… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

Breastfeeding has a long list of demonstrated benefits, including a lower risk of diarrhea, skin rash, respiratory infections and a type of deadly gastrointestinal disease. Now, new research affirms that warding off asthma symptoms still belongs on that list.

Researchers in the Netherlands used questionnaires to assess the breastfeeding history and asthma symptoms in more than 5,000 preschool children. The children who had never been breastfed were more likely to wheeze, cough, have shortness of breath and have persistent mucus than children who were breastfed for six months. The children who were breastfed for only short periods of time were more likely to have wheezing symptoms at 1, 2 and 3 years of age. The results were published in the European Respiratory Journal on July 20.

The link between breastfeeding and asthma prevention isn’t new. A call to action earlier this year from the U.S. surgeon general highlights asthma prevention as a benefit of breastfeeding. And research from a decade ago found that the longer babies drank their mother’s milk, the greater protection they had against asthma.

What’s still unclear is exactly how breast milk might offer that protection. The authors of the latest study suggest in a WebMD article that the link might have to do with how breastfeeding affects the immune system and the gut.

But as this Los Angeles Times article on breastfeeding studies points out, some breastfeeding “benefits” might wear off over time -- and although children who were breastfed might have fewer asthma symptoms when young, the protection doesn’t always continue into their teenage years.

healthkey@tribune.com

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