February is American Heart Month, and the Go Red for Women campaign raises awareness for women’s heart disease. Most people unfortunately still think of heart disease as a men’s health issue, but the truth is that more women die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) than men! In that spirit, I would like to make mention of a well-done study just out in JAMA which points to a significant risk factor for heart disease in women – menopause.
Research has shown that premature menopause (before the age of 45) has been linked to an increase in cardiovascular disease and premature death in women. In fact, some studies show that up to 70% of women will develop some degree of CVD after menopause. One major reason for this is that estrogen is thought to be cardioprotective, and as levels sharply decline with menopause our risk for CVD jumps up with it.
So, what’s a girl to do? Certainly, maintaining an active lifestyle and healthy BMI, managing blood pressure, and eating a diet rich in Omega 3’s all can help mitigate this risk. However, the study in JAMA reveals another important way in which we ladies can stave off menopause – breastfeeding. The study concluded that one to six months of cumulative lifetime exclusive breastfeeding was associated with a 5 percent reduced risk for early menopause, seven to 12 months with a 28 percent reduced risk, and 13 to 18 months with a 20 percent reduced risk. The reason for this is simple and sort of intuitive. Breastfeeding suppresses ovulation, and a slower depletion of the ovarian follicle reserves leads to slower onset of menopause.
We already knew that breastfeeding is important for the health of our babies. But know we know that it is healthy for Mom as well. And that’s something worth “Going Red” for.
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