Mother feeding her baby, featured image for blog around MS and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding may reduce risk of MS for those with family history

For people with a family history of multiple sclerosis (MS), breastfeeding exclusively in the first months of life might lower the risk of getting the disease later on, a new study has found. On the other hand, using cow’s milk or formula might increase the risk. The researchers found that exclusive breastfeeding for at least four months seemed to protect against familial MS, but this was observed mainly in males.

The study was titled, ‘Exclusive breastfeeding may be a protective factor in individuals with familial multiple sclerosis. A Population Registry-based case-control study.’ It was published in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

In general, breastfeeding appears to have a slight overall protective effect on MS risk. While the causes of MS are not fully understood and involve both genetic and environmental factors, some studies have suggested a link between being breastfed as an infant and a lower likelihood of developing MS. However, this connection is not yet proven.

Most people with MS have sporadic disease, affecting only one person in a family. But there are also cases of familial MS, where multiple close relatives develop MS due to shared genetic risk factors. Previous studies on breastfeeding and MS risk didn’t differentiate between these two types.

This study in Serbia investigated whether breastfeeding’s impact on MS risk varies between those with sporadic or familial disease. The research involved 131 people with familial MS, an equal number with sporadic MS, and controls without the disease.

While about three-quarters of participants in each group were exclusively breastfed in the first three months, controls had a higher rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months compared to those with familial or sporadic MS. Beyond six months, controls and those with sporadic MS were more often exclusively breastfed compared to those with familial MS.

Analysing the data, researchers found no significant effect of breastfeeding on the risk of sporadic MS. However, in familial cases, breastfeeding exclusively for six months or more was linked to a reduced risk of MS. This effect was more pronounced in males than females.

The study also suggested that longer breastfeeding duration in familial MS was associated with a lower risk, while the use of cow’s milk or formula increased the risk. The researchers suggested that infants with a family history of MS might want to avoid cow’s milk and formula in infancy.

It’s important to note that this was a relatively small study, and more research with larger participant groups is needed to confirm these findings due to the rarity of familial MS.