babyraResearchers in a cross-sectional study report a potential link between breastfeeding for a longer duration and a lowered risk for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The study encompassed more than 7,000 Chinese women, according to a news release from the Oxford University Press.

The researchers say that study results indicate women who had breastfed their children were around half as likely to have RA when compared to women who had never breastfed.

The release states that the study was designed to investigate the potential link between RA, breastfeeding, and use of oral contraceptives in a population of 7,349 women aged 50 years or older in South China. Questionnaires were used to determine sociodemographic history, breastfeeding history, and history of use of oral contraceptives. Researchers report that the women were also asked whether they had been diagnosed with RA and were examined to check the joints for any swelling or tenderness that may indicate RA.

The women were also questioned regarding pregnancy, number of live births, and the duration for which each child was breastfed if applicable, the release notes. Researchers also asked the women whether they had used the contraceptive pill, the age they began taking it, and about the duration in which they took it.

The researchers say that the majority of the women had at least one live birth and among these participants, more than 95% had breastfed for at least one month. A total of 11% had used the contraceptive pill, primarily for a short time.

The study suggests that among women who had at least one birth, those who breastfed were about half as likely to have RA. The results also indicate a statistically significant trend, researchers explain, of decreasing risk of RA with increased duration of breastfeeding. No relationship was observed between the contraceptive pill and RA, the release states.

The association highlighted in the study may hold promise for the future of RA disease burden, the researchers conclude, and “replication of the association between breastfeeding and lower risk of RA in a different population reinforces the need for further research to understand the hormonal mechanisms involved in the onset of RA.”

Source: Oxford University Press