Research News

Can Breastfeeding Reduce Chronic Inflammation?

IPR researchers examine long-term health effects of early-life conditions


Click on the image above to see a larger version of the infographic.

A body plagued by chronic inflammation is at increased risk for a host of diseases and poor health conditions—from Type 2 diabetes to disabilities developed late in life. Yet little is known about how early life conditions can have an impact on chronic inflammation in adulthood.

The infographic above examines the link between birth weight, the length of time a baby was breastfed in infancy (if at all), and levels of C-reactive protein (CRP)—a biomarker of inflammation and indicator of disease risk—in adults. IPR anthropologist Thomas McDade, IPR developmental psychobiologist Emma Adam, pediatrician and IPR associate Craig Garfield, former IPR graduate research assistant Molly Metzger (now an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis), and their research team examined CRP levels in 7,000 24 to 32 year olds. The researchers find that as birth weights increase, level of CRP decreases. Compared with infants who were not breastfed, concentrations of CRP were about 20 percent lower for those breastfed less than three months, 27 percent lower when breastfed for three to six months, and nearly 30 percent lower for infants breastfed for more than six months.

Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B and also included in an IPR working paper, suggest that efforts to promote breastfeeding, including longer durations, and to increase birth weights could lead to significant reductions in chronic diseases and potentially save billions in healthcare costs.

Thomas McDade is professor of anthropology, director of IPR’s Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health, and an IPR fellow. Emma Adam is professor of human development and social policy and an IPR fellow. Craig Garfield is associate professor of pediatrics and medical social sciences, and an IPR associate.  For more information, read “Long-Term Effects of Birth Weight and Breastfeeding Duration on Inflammation in Early Adulthood,” or a write-up of the study when it was an IPR working paper.