Breastfeeding and cholesterol later in life

Is it possible that infant feeding patterns can influence long-term changes in cholesterol metabolism?

An international group of researchers think it might.

First, the details.

  • A systematic review of studies about infant feeding and cholesterol blood levels in adulthood (older than 16 years) was conducted.
  • 17 studies (12,890 breastfed and 4608 formula-fed) were included.

And, the results.

  • The average total blood cholesterol level was significantly lower among those who had ever been breastfed compared to those fed formula milk.
  • The differences were larger and more consistent in 7 studies that analyzed “exclusive” feeding patterns vs 10 studies of nonexclusive feeding patterns.
  • Potential confounding factors (socioeconomic, body mass index, and smoking status in adult life) had minimal effect on these estimates.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Initial breastfeeding (particularly when exclusive) may be associated with lower blood cholesterol concentrations in later life.”

They also advise, “Moves to reduce the cholesterol content of formula feeds below those of breast milk should be treated with caution.”

More general background information on issues related to adding ingredients to infant formulas is available here. It was prepared by a committee of experts at the request of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada.

8/8/08 12:56 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.