Choice to Conceive or Breastfeed Could Influence Risk of Death Among Women

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Marji_301015A new research study that contends specific reproductive factors for women may reduce their risk of premature mortality has been published in BMC Medicine. According to the study, for women, events linked to reproduction serve as significant milestones in their biologic life that are linked to major changes, both physiological and endocrinological (hormonal).

While studies have previously focused on the risk of all-cause and disease-specific death linked to reproductive factors, research has so far failed to delineate how these factors affect women’s long-term health.

For this study, researchers, led by Melissa Merritt from Imperial College London, examined data sets taken from 322,972 women across 10 countries. This data was originally part of the observational European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort study.

Participants completed questionnaires and interviews regarding lifestyle characteristics, medical history, and diet in order to determine their baseline characteristics. Researchers then followed each participant for 12.9 years, on average. During the study period, 14,383 deaths were reported. Of these, 5,938 deaths were attributed to cancer and 2,404 deaths were attributed to circulatory system diseases. Reproductive factors considered included the onset of menstruation and age at which it occurred, the use of oral contraceptives, the occurrence of pregnancy and age at which the woman gave birth, and whether or not they breastfed.

Overall, the study’s results showed that women who gave birth, breastfed, started menstruating after age 14, and took oral contraceptives were more likely to have good health and were less likely to develop cancer or cardiovascular disease. A lower risk of mortality was seen for women who gave birth between the ages of 26 and 30 years old, while those who gave birth before the age of 20 years old or over the age of 31 years old saw an increased risk of death.

Additionally, the researchers discovered a lower risk of death (especially from ischemic heart disease) for women who breastfed when compared to those who did not; women who menstruated at age 15 or older had a lower risk of death compared to those who started before age 12;  and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease was linked to those who gave birth, breastfed, and started menstruating at 15 years old or older compared to those who started when they were under the age of 12.

Merritt concludes by saying, “We observed, after controlling for other factors known to influence risk of death—such as body mass index [BMI], smoking habits and physical activity levels—that several reproductive factors were associated with a significantly lower risk of death. Many of these associations were also apparent when we considered cause-specific deaths from total cancer and ischemic heart disease. These common reproductive factors may influence the long-term health of women.”

Source for Today’s Article:

Brazier, Y., “Reproductive factors may lower women’s risk of early death,” Medical News Today web site, October 30, 2015;