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Does Breastfeeding Increase Risk of Osteoporosis?

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Breast feeding has many benefits for the infant as well as the mother, but Mexican researchers have found one possible downside to prolonged breast feeding. Postmenopausal women whose children nursed for more than three years altogether were more likely to develop osteoporosis. This association was especially strong among mestizo women, who were twice as likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis if they had breast-fed for three years or more.

The investigators note that the average number of children in Mexico is two, and that a majority of women breastfeed. This could mean that Mexico may face a crisis of osteoporosis in the future. Other scientists are not convinced, however. Previous studies have not found an association between breastfeeding and osteoporosis, and breast milk is often the healthiest way to feed a baby.

[Menopause, online Sept. 27, 2010]

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My personal experience can't compare with studies of thousands of woman, but here is the history of breast feeding all done in my twenties. First child--breast fed 6 months; Second pregnancy twins -- both breast fed 3 months then one breastfed until 8 months; fourth child-- breast fed 8 months.

I am almost 71 and have no sign of osteopenia or osteoporosis yet. The study infers that children were breast fed until they were around a year and one half. Breast feeding can be a means of birth control. It is natures way of ensuring that a developing fetus will be supplied enough nutrients. Menstrual periods, indicating fertility, don't generally return until breast feedings drop to twice daily or less thus preventing a pregnancy possibly occurring during the time a woman is feeding 3 or more times daily.

It will be interesting... Scientists should make a study of women who had one or two children vs. women with 4 or more children and are breast feeding (for more than one year) to see results.

What a strange conclusion to come to... The natural way of feeding infants thought to compromise the skeletal health of the mother after her child-bearing years are over. [By the way, 90% of Mexicans are "Mestizos" which means of mixed racial heritage. The percentage of those called "Mestizos" is even higher if you focus on the northern part of the country, with indigenous peoples located more in the south.

I don't know how the researchers singled out the Mestizo post-menopausal women with higher incidence of osteoporosis who breastfed for 3 years.] One wonders what the researchers were really looking for in this study and where/how their study was conducted. I am still trying to locate the full article. Often something eye-catching and startling will make the news the the U.S. omitting other factors.

Of course, breastfeeding does not cause osteoporosis, as has been shown in many studies since the early 1970s when osteoporosis began gaining focused attention. On the contrary, in women who breastfeed their infants for at least 8 months their bone density is greater after weaning than it was before, and this positive effect is active with each infant she breastfeeds, creating healthier bone with each child breastfed.

The diet of any woman, either a mother or not, will affect her vulnerability to osteoporosis and a myriad of other body afflictions. Being in agreement with Hippocrates (and Joe and Terry Graedon) of "Let your food be your medicine," I decided to research the history of the cultural diet of Mexico. Below are some pertinent facts which certainly have an impact on Mexican women's bone health.


Maize was the main food of the sedentary peoples of all of highland Middle America. In the highlands of Guatemala one Quiché Maya word for maize is kana, which means "our mother." Maize was so important to some cultures that without it there was a cultural sense of hunger, even if other foods were available.

Maize is a particularly fertile and nutritious plant, capable of providing abundant calories and nutrients. When it is eaten with beans, another staple of the highland diet, the lysine, isoleucine, and tryptophan deficiencies in maize are overcome, and provides a pattern of amino acids similar to that of animal protein. Moreover, the traditional preparation of maize, which involves soaking the kernels in a lime (CaO) solution, releases niacin for the consumer and provides significant amounts of calcium.

Mexico’s food system has suffered a long and complicated evolution.The increased modernization and internationalization of Mexican food and cuisine is clearly not without negative consequences. The variety of foods that characterized nutritional regimes in the past is declining; vast areas of land that once carried edible wild plants and animals have been cleared for agriculture, cattle raising, and expanding towns and cities. Packaged and processed foods, often less nutritious than their natural counterparts, are becoming more widespread, and there is still acute and chronic malnutrition in several parts of Mexico, even as obesity is a growing problem in affluent sectors of cities.

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