Is extended breastfeeding likely protective against MS?
January 7, 2011 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I just found a study from the '70s that suggests that extended breastfeeding can be protective against MS because it promotes healthy myelinization. My husband has MS, so should I breastfeed our children longer? To what age? Are there any studies about breastmilk and REmyelinization? i.e., Is there any benefit to my husband partaking of a breastmilk tonic while we have it in production?

This question is anonymous because I am revealing personal health information about someone who is not me.

I am having trouble finding studies that further the work of these 1970s studies; everything seems to quote back to the same one(s). I don't want to end up nursing a five year-old if it turns out later research has led to entirely different conclusions. And I'm not finding anything about breastmilk administered to human adults at all.
posted by anonymous to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
IANAD, but I would be wary of a study from 30-40 years ago that was not replicated or repeated in any way.

Ms. kuanes has MS, and we have not even heard of this anecdotally (and we have heard of cures/aids/therapies stranger than breastmilk consumption by an adult).
posted by kuanes at 8:38 AM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

The real problem with MS is no one really knows anything.

There's a lot of speculative theory and research on what possibly causes it, and who gets it, but there's nothing pinpointing it to something very specific.

Research, treatment and theory in the MS field have changed tremendously since the mid 90s, I couldn't wager a guess at how much has changed since the 70s when that paper was introduced. Conclusions have changed some since then, for sure.

Happy to talk more confidentially, mefi mail is in profile.

Talk to your pediatrician and your local La Leche League to get more information about the general benefits of (extended) breast feeding otherwise.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:46 AM on January 7, 2011

The WHO recommends
"...exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is the recommended way of feeding infants, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years or beyond."
so if you do so, you'll be following current best practice regardless of any specific benefits as far as MS goes.

Weirdly, there is evidence that if the mother has MS she can reduce her chance of a relapse by breastfeeding, but that doesn't help you very much!

Ah ha. Here is a paper from the BMJ in 1994 which concluded
"Our data indicate that patients with multiple sclerosis were less likely than controls to have been breast fed for a prolonged period of time."
It's not a huge study, but the design looks reasonable at first glance. I'm afraid that's all a quick searhc on sciencedirect turned up.
posted by pharm at 8:52 AM on January 7, 2011

(There are also a bunch of review articles which mention the link, but they all turn out to be referencing that BMJ paper.)
posted by pharm at 8:54 AM on January 7, 2011

NB. Kuanes: I don't think the asker is asking whether she should breast feed her partner, but rather whether she should breast feed her children for longer than usual (in the west at least) in order for them to gain from this putative protective given the possibility of inheriting MS from their father.
posted by pharm at 8:56 AM on January 7, 2011

Three peer-reviewed articles that may be helpful: 1, 2, 3.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:05 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

(pharm: she is indeed asking that: "Is there any benefit to my husband partaking of a breastmilk tonic while we have it in production?" -- in addition to asking about her baby)
posted by brainmouse at 9:08 AM on January 7, 2011

(Oops. That'll teach me not to read to the end of the question. How embarrassing.)

Yeah, it's unlikely that breast milk will help your husband asker, but who knows? It can't hurt if you end up expressing extra (although your local hospital would probably love to have the spare milk too if you find you have a copious over supply). I couldn't find any published papers on this topic.

However, in my wanderings, I did find this link which suggests that there's a preventative effect from making sure that the mother (assuming she's breastfeeding that is) is getting a decent amount of vitamin D. Might be worth checking out.
posted by pharm at 9:11 AM on January 7, 2011

I don't think the asker is asking whether she should breast feed her partner

She is also asking if there is any research about whether breast milk would be helpful to her partner (last question above the jump).

As I understand it, the mechanism by which breast milk is hypothesized to help has to do with myelination during development, so it's hard to see how breast milk would be helpful to an adult even if the 1970s study's hypothesis about its being protective against demyelination is accurate.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:11 AM on January 7, 2011

Here's a good article on breastfeeding in Mongolia. If you decide to breastfeed longer than is socially acceptable in your area, you may find it encouraging to know that you're not alone, and that it's normal elsewhere.
posted by aniola at 9:42 AM on January 7, 2011

There are causal links to high Vitamin D levels (particularly among those people leaving near the equator, thus being more exposed to sunlight-->Vitamin D production) being a good deterrent for developing MS.
posted by kuanes at 9:49 AM on January 7, 2011

In terms of extended breastfeeding, the recommendation by WHO is up to two years or longer if both mother and child want to continue. This is gradually becoming accepted in the US (which is quite breastfeeding resistant), and evne my sons' fairly fuddy-duddy pediatrician recommends it cautiously now. I hear about people who breastfeed much longer, until age four or five, but mostly they keep quiet about it because people get squicky. I say aim for two, and see how you feel about it then.

I've read several times that the Mother's Milk Banks in the US provide milk to adult patients with a doctor's prescription, usually people suffering from cancer or otherwise immuno-compromised. I don't get the impression this does anything long-term, just alleviates symptoms, but I say why not? Try it and see if it helps your husband, assuming you have some to spare.

While it would be nice to donate excess to the milk banks, be warned that the screening procedures are strict to say the least (with good reason), and its usually impossible to donate milk already expressed (can't donate milk expressed while you have a cold, if you've taken an OTC painkiller etc). So if you have a frozen stash, your husband could try that.
posted by Joh at 10:00 AM on January 7, 2011

Also, MeMail me if you need the full text for "Divergent risk of multiple sclerosis in two anabaptist communities in America".
posted by ryanshepard at 11:57 AM on January 7, 2011

There doesn't appear to be solid, peer-reviewed research to support or disprove this. There are lots of theories about MS but few really helpful proven treatments. However, breastmilk is healthy stuff, so there is no reason not to, if you both want to try it.
posted by theora55 at 12:00 PM on January 7, 2011

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