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Breastfeeding may help protect against childhood leukaemia

Posted:  Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Researchers could study the benefits of breastfeeding and unravel new aspects every time! A new meta-analysis and review reiterate the benefits of this marvel milk and how it can confer protection against the dreaded childhood leukaemia. The review found that breastfeeding for 6 months or longer was associated with a 19% decreased risk of leukaemia when compared with no breastfeeding or breastfeeding for a shorter period.

Researchers from Israel came to this finding after reviewing evidence from 18 studies on the impact of breastfeeding on risk of childhood leukaemia. This research is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

According to the researchers, a possible mechanism by which breast milk affords protection is by influencing the development of an infant's immune system. With its assortment of immunologically active components and anti-inflammatory defence mechanisms, breast milk may help develop a ‘favourable’ gut microbiome and also supply stem cells to the infant.

Leukaemia, which is a cancer of the bone marrow, accounts for 30% of all childhood cancers worldwide. If exclusive and prolonged breastfeeding can keep this disease at bay, then mothers should indeed ensure that they breastfeed their infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization strongly recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of infant life.

Elaborating on the benefits of breastfeeding and the need for further studies, the researchers said, “Because the primary goal of public health is prevention of morbidity, health care professionals should be taught the potential health benefits of breastfeeding and given tools to assist mothers with breastfeeding, whether themselves or with referrals to others who can help. The many potential preventive health benefits of breastfeeding should also be communicated openly to the general public, not only to mothers, so breastfeeding can be more socially accepted and facilitated. In addition, more high quality studies are needed to clarify the biological mechanisms underlying this association between breastfeeding and lower childhood leukaemia morbidity”.

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