Early Exclusive Breastfeeding Associated with Longer Telomeres in Latino Preschoolers

Note: Funding was provided by the NIH, the Hellman Health Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program, the NASPGHAN Foundation, and UCSF-CTSI.

By Suzanne Leigh via UCSF.edu

Infants who are exclusively breastfed early in life are more likely by age 4 or 5 to have longer telomeres, the protective bits of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells. In older adults, shorter telomeres are associated with a greater likelihood of developing conditions of aging, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Telomeres, which are measured in white blood cells, generally become shorter with age, when the cell can no longer regenerate through cell division. But there is evidence that a significant amount of telomere shortening occurs during early childhood.

In their study of Latino children, published July 20, 2016, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, UCSF scientists tracked the feeding habits of the offspring of 121 Latina mothers at two hospitals: UCSF Medical Center and Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. The mothers were generally low-income, with almost all participating in the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the majority were foreign born and Spanish speaking.

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