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Does breastfeeding reduces the risk of cortical cataract? The study says yes…

Does breastfeeding reduces the risk of cortical cataract? The study says yes…

October 4, 2019

A lot of mothers breastfeed their babies and numerous studies indicate the benefits of breastfeeding on children. However, the benefits of breastfeeding on the mother have not been comprehensively evaluated. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that 24.9% of the mothers breastfeed their child till 6 months while 35.9% of mothers breastfeed until the child attains the age of 12 months. A study, done by Sangshin Park and Nam-Kyong Choi and published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, concluded that parous women who breastfeed more children and for a longer period are at reduced risk of cortical cataract formation. The study finds that women who breastfeed their child for 36-40 months have reduced the risk for cortical cataract as compared to those women who breastfeed for 16 months or less. Researchers believed that the study implicates the effect of breastfeeding on the development of diabetes mellitus. The occurrence of diabetes mellitus increases the risk of age-related cataracts. Various studies indicate that women who breastfeed their children for an extended period are at a lower risk of developing diabetes at a later stage. The study hypothesized that women who breastfeed many children for an extended period are at reduced risk for developing an age-related cataract.

A total of 3821 women age 50 and above were analyzed. Only those participants were included in the study that did not have any eye surgery. The mean age of participants in the study was 62.2 years and 46.8 months was the mean breastfeed duration. The ocular health of the participants was comprehensively evaluated to diagnose age-related cataract in the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants were also required to provide information about their breastfeeding experience through health interview and health examination survey.

Participants of the study were divided into four groups based on the number of breastfed children (0 to 1, 2, 3, and 4 to 12) and based on breastfeeding duration in months (0 to 16, 17 to 35, 36 to 60, and 61 to 324 months).

The primary endpoint of the study was to determine the development of any cataract subtypes such as nuclear, posterior subcapsular, anterior subcapsular, cortical or age-related cataract. Factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, presence or absence of diabetes mellitus, education, income, and age were also considered during the study.

The study concluded that the risk of cataract formation significantly reduced in women who breastfeed more children for a longer period. The cortical cataract occurred in 9.4% of women was due to breastfeeding 2 children or fewer indicating insufficient breastfeeding. The study also found that the attributable risk for breastfeeding for less than 36 months was 10.7%. Women who breastfeed 4 or more children were at 44% lower risk for cortical cataract as compared to those who either breastfed only one child or did not breastfeed at all.

Women who breastfed for 36-60months had a 39% reduced risk while women who continued breastfeeding for more than 60 months had a 47% reduced risk for cortical cataract compared to those who breastfed 16 months or less. It was also noticed that there was a reduced risk of 5% for every additional year of breastfeeding.

This study shows a clear and strong relationship between breastfeeding and cortical cataract formation.  The reasons for this relationship may be many. During pregnancy, fat gets accumulated in the body. This fat, if not used as energy for lactation, may lead to metabolic diseases. Lactation also helps manage the weight thereby reducing the risk of metabolic diseases. Another reason for this relationship may be the secretion of oxytocin hormone during lactation which is known to prevent metabolic diseases. Metabolic diseases increase the concentration of Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGE) leading to various diseases including cortical cataract. More comprehensive studies are required for finding out the exact mechanism to relate to breastfeeding and the risk of cortical cataract.

Thus, this study helps in characterizing the benefits of breastfeeding on the women which were previously not frequently available in the literature. The onus of guiding the women to breastfeed is now on the ophthalmologist who should inform this particular benefit to the women of a young age when they visit for an eye check-up.


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