Women over age 50 who breastfed their babies performed better on cognitive tests than women who never breastfed, according to a study led by researchers at UCLA Health.
“While many studies have found that breastfeeding improves a child’s long-term health and well-being, our study is one of very few that has looked at the long-term health effects for women who had breastfed their babies,” Molly Fox, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the UCLA Department of Anthropology and the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, said in a statement. “Our findings, which show superior cognitive performance among women over 50 who had breastfed, suggest that breastfeeding may be ‘neuroprotective’ later in life.”
Researchers said the findings of the study, published in Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, suggest breastfeeding might have long-term benefits for the mother’s brain. Studies show when cognition becomes impaired after the age of 50, it can be a strong indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. Women comprise nearly two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers said.
Other studies have shown that phases of a woman’s reproductive life history, including menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause, can impact the risk of health conditions like depression or cancer.
“What we do know is that there is a positive correlation between breastfeeding and a lower risk of other diseases such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease, and that these conditions are strongly connected to a higher risk for AD (Alzheimer’s disease),” Dr. Helen Lavretsky, the senior author of the study and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, said in a statement.
Researchers analyzed data from women in two 12-week clinical trials at UCLA Health. The two trials included 115 women, with 64 identified as depressed and 51 non-depressed.
Results from the cognitive tests revealed those who had breastfed, regardless of whether they were depressed, performed better in all four of the tests measuring for learning, delayed recall, executive functioning and processing compared to women who had not breastfed.