Breastfeeding can cut childhood leukemia risk by nearly one-fifth, study finds

August 20, 2015

(NaturalNews) Breastfeeding is the healthiest option to give your little one the best start in life. The benefits go way beyond providing basic nutrition. In addition to providing all the vitamins, nutrients and immune-building substances a baby needs, researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel suggest that it can cut the risk of childhood leukemia as well.

"Breast milk is a total food, intended by nature to exclusively supply all of the infant's nutritional needs for the first few months of life. Breast milk is a live substance, containing antibodies manufactured by the mother and other unique qualities that promote a healthy flora in the intestines of the infant and influence the development of the child's immune system," said the study's lead author, Efrat Amitay, of the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Around 175,000 cases of childhood cancer occur worldwide every year. Leukemia accounts for about 30 percent of all childhood cancers. Very little is known about the cause and development, but these researchers found that breastfeeding may be the key to cut the risk by nearly one-fifth.

They based their findings on 18 different studies from around the world. They included more than 10,000 children with leukemia and about 17,500 healthy children.

This new study was published online on June 1 in JAMA Pediatrics. Efrat Amitay and his team report that there is strong evidence that breastfeeding for six months or longer is linked to a 19 percent decreased risk of leukemia compared with no breastfeeding or breastfeeding for a shorter period.

It is still not entirely clear why breast milk seems to have a protective role. Scientists believe that chemicals are transferred through the milk which boost the infants' immune system and work as an anti-inflammatory agent which may reduce the risk of childhood leukemia.

While more research is needed to unravel the whole process, the scientists stress how important it is to educate women on the health benefits of breastfeeding. They also note that there is a need for making breastfeeding more openly accepted by the public.

"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," they wrote.

"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," they added.

This is not the first study to find a positive link between breastfeeding and health. Previous studies already associated it with a higher IQ, fewer ear or chest infections, a lower risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and protection from becoming obese or developing diabetes later in life.

Most scientists will definitely agree that breast milk is the best option, but Professor Chris Bunce, of the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research charity, says that more research is needed and mothers who feed their baby formula shouldn't be too concerned about this study.

"We do not want mothers who are unable to or choose not to breastfeed to worry as a result of this research," he said in the Daily Mail.

"Although this research represents a comprehensive analysis of many different studies, it can still only tell us about associations rather than proven causes, which may be complicated by other background factors," he added.

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