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J Alzheimers Dis. 2013;37(4):809-21. doi: 10.3233/JAD-130152.

Maternal breastfeeding history and Alzheimer's disease risk.

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Division of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.


The effect of early and midlife factors on later-life cognitive function has attracted scientific and public interest in recent years, especially with respect to hormonal risk factors for dementia. There is substantial evidence for reproductive history affecting Alzheimer's disease (AD) etiology. Here, we demonstrate how breastfeeding history affects women's risk of AD. Reproductive history data was collected, and AD diagnostic interviews were performed, for a cohort of elderly British women. Using Cox proportional-hazard models, we find that longer breastfeeding duration corresponded to reduced risk of AD (p < 0.01, n = 81). Women who breastfed had lower AD risk than women who did not breastfeed (p = 0.017, n = 81). Breastfeeding practices are an important modifier of cumulative endogenous hormone exposure for mothers. Ovarian hormone deprivation and/or insulin sensitivity benefits of breastfeeding may be responsible for the observed reduction in AD risk. Future studies concerning hormone effects on AD risk should consider how reproductive history leads to variation in endogenous hormone exposure and how this may influence the relationship between hormones and AD.


Alzheimer's disease; breastfeeding; estrogen; hormones; lactation; reproductive history; risk factors

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