Breast feeding for a couple of months can significantly reduce women’s risk of metabolic syndrome (a cluster of heart disease risk factors), according to a new study published in the journal Diabetes, reported by HealthDay News.  

Metabolic syndrome’s cardiac risk factors include abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, low levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol) and high levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol). People with the syndrome are more likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

For the study, researchers examined 1,400 women with no history of pregnancy or metabolic syndrome. Investigators examined them again 7, 10, 15 and 20 years after the study started.

During the study, 704 participants gave birth. While pregnant, 84 women developed gestational diabetes. Later, during the study’s follow-up period, 120 women developed metabolic syndrome.

Researchers found that study participants who developed metabolic syndrome had breast-fed their babies for 2.6 months on average. Women who did not develop metabolic syndrome had breast-fed their offspring for seven months on average.

“We found a very strong protective effect for lactation, and longer duration is associated with a greater risk reduction,” said Erica Gunderson, PhD, the study’s lead author and an epidemiologist with Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research in Oakland, California.

Researchers didn’t study how breast feeding reduced the risk of heart disease years later, but they believe women who breast-feed benefit from higher good cholesterol levels and less accumulation of belly fat.

In addition, breast feeding also helps blood sugar metabolism, which might lower insulin levels. (High insulin levels is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome.)

Still worried about metabolic syndrome risk?

Docs advise women to further reduce their risk by eating less processed carbohydrates found in sweets, breads, cereals and pastas.

In addition, physicians suggest that women eat healthier foods, exercise regularly and, if they’re pregnant, consider breast-feeding their babies.

Visit Real Health’s sister website to learn how diet and exercise can help fight metabolic syndrome.