Researchers from the Northwestern University study evaluated how levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a key bio-marker of inflammation, linked back to birth weight and breastfeeding duration for nearly 7,000 24- to 32-year-olds.
The study not only showed both lower birth weights and shorter duration of breastfeeding predicted higher CRP levels in young adults, and thus higher disease risk.
The research also found dramatic racial, ethnic and education disparities. More educated mothers were more likely to breastfeed and to give birth to larger babies, as were whites and Hispanics.
The data points to the importance of promoting better birth outcomes and increased duration of breastfeeding to affect public health among adults.
Such awareness could make a difference in eroding the intractable social disparities in adult health outcomes associated with inflammation, according to the study.
"The findings about breastfeeding and birth weight are particularly illuminating," said Thomas McDade, lead author of the study.
"The rates for many adult diseases completely mirror rates of low birth weight and low breastfeeding uptake and duration," he said.
Breastfeeding is known to provide nutritional and immunological support to infants following delivery and affects immune development and metabolic processes related to obesity - two potential avenues of influence on adult CRP production.
"This research helps us understand and appreciate the importance of breast feeding, especially for low-weight infants," said Alan Guttmacher, MD, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
"The results suggest that breast feeding may reduce a major risk factor for heart disease, well into adulthood," said Guttmache.
Each pound of additional birth weight predicted a CRP concentration that was 5 per cent lower. Three to 12 months of breastfeeding predicted CRP levels that were 20 to 30 per cent lower compared with individuals who were not breastfed.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.


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