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A Mother's Natural Protection From RA

A research team exploring the contribution of hormonal factors prior to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and the impact of postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy on the risk of disease found evidence women decrease their risk of RA the longer they breastfeed.

Comparing the health of nearly 700 women over a 26-year period, regardless of the number of children they had, women who had breast-fed for 13-23 months reduced their risk of RA by 20 percent compared to those who didn't. Moreover, women who had breast-fed for at least 24 months improved their odds by 50 percent.

The same research team also uncovered some not-so-good news for women who experienced irregular menstrual cycles between ages 20-35: Their risk of contracting RA increased. In fact, women who had begun menstruating at an early age (10 or younger) were more likely to develop seropositive RA.

The study's results did not show any association between a history of oral contraceptive use and disease risk, however, or any significant differences in disease risk related to a woman's number of pregnancies.

Researchers confirmed the risk of RA increases with age and demonstrated a peak risk at the typical time of menopause, ages 50-54. Because the onset of RA often coincides with menopause, some studies have linked the disease to falling estrogen levels. But, scientists found estrogen therapy among postmenopausal women didn't protect them from RA.

EurekaAlert November 4, 2004

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