Breastfed babies are less likely to develop multiple sclerosis, and could also be better protected in areas of high childhood mortality rates, two studies have concluded.

Researchers in Naples, Italy say that long-term breastfeeding seems to provide immunity against MS. They believe that human milk can actively influence the immune system, whereas cow’s milk contains lower amounts of unsaturated fatty acids. Cow’s milk has been associated with the formation of defective membranes which allow infective agents to enter the system. (BMJ, 28 May 1994).

Children in Guinea Bissau, West Africa who were not breastfed were three times as likely to die from diarrhea related disease, researchers from the Danish Epidemiology Science Centre discovered.

The finding confirms that the benefits of breastfeeding last long beyond infancy.

Many in medicine had believed the good effects lasted only for the first year of life and that feeding after 18 months had a detrimental effect, largely because babies breastfed for more than a year are lighter in weight than weaned children.

However, prolonged breastfeeding is common in Guinea Bissau where diarrhea is a major cause of death in early childhood. Researchers discovered that incidences of diarrhea were higher among weaned children than those still partially breastfed, and those who were never breastfed had a 3.5 times higher chance of dying than those breastfed.

!ABMJ, 28 May 1994.

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