Various studies over the years have demonstrated that women who breastfeed have a lower risk for developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But the mechanisms behind these risks were not fully understood.
The new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, focused on the presence of excess fat, specifically visceral and pericardial fat in lactating women for 30 years.
"After accounting for lifestyle behaviors and other risk factors across the life course, the lower visceral and pericardial fat among women with longer lactation persisted," said Erica P. Gunderson, Professor at the Kaiser Permanente's Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in the US.
"... yes, breastfeeding more is actually beneficial to a woman's health and can help to prevent cardiovascular disease," said Duke Appiah, Assistant Professor at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Centre in the US.
Visceral fat is typically stored within the abdominal cavity near the stomach, liver and intestines. It can potentially increase the risk of developing heart attacks, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, breast and colorectal cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
Pericardial fat is a deposit of fatty tissue located on the outside of the heart, and also may influence certain cardiovascular conditions.
Because these fats are related to insulin production and other cardiometabolic factors, weight change could influence the relationship between breastfeeding and these fats. An increase in pericardial fat also puts additional weight on the heart and can affect its contractility, or how it beats, which also could influence other cardiovascular diseases, the researchers noted. For the study, Appiah used a long-term study of cardiovascular disease that includes more than 5,000 adult women who were aged 18 to 30 years. The participants were monitored for more than 30 years.