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ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
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ANIMAL CARE
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BONES & JOINTS
Living Near Major Road May Boost Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk
New Clues to How Fish Oils Help Arthritis Patients
Breast-feeding Might Shield Women From Rheumatoid Arthritis
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Scams and Shams That Prey on Cancer Patients
More Cancer Tests Mean More False-Positive Results
Gene Screen May Predict Colon Cancer's Return
CAREGIVING
Study Links Pesticides to Birth Defects
Bariatric Surgery Centers Don't Deliver Better Outcomes
Mild Flu Season Coming to a Close
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Potassium-Rich Foods May Cut Stroke, Heart Disease Risk
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Mercury in Fish Linked to High Blood Pressure
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Science May Banish Bad Hair Days
With Psoriasis, the Internet May Offer Hope
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Rheumatoid Arthritis May Harm Gums
Gum Disease May Reactivate AIDS Virus
Gum Disease Might Boost Cancer Risk
DIABETES
Formula Puts Doctor, Patient Glucose Readings on Same Page
Americans Consuming More Sugary Beverages
Abnormal Heart Rhythm Boosts Death Risk for Diabetics
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Adults Need To Get Thier Food Facts Straight
The 3LS Wellness Program for Reversing Chronic Symptoms and Creating Lasting Health
Low Vitamin A, C Intake Tied to Asthma Risk
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Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
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Pollution Particles Impair Blood Vessel Function
Air Pollution Exposure May Slow Fetal Growth
Staying Slim Is Good for the Environment
EYE CARE, VISION
Eye Problems, Hearing Loss May Be Linked
Music Can Help Restore Stroke Patients' Sight
Brain Adapts to Age-Related Eye Disease
FITNESS
Exercise Extends Life of Kidney Patients
Will the Wii Keep You Fit?
Study Shows Exercise Shields Against Osteoporosis
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
New Yogurt May Ease Stomach Ulcers
GENERAL HEALTH
Research Shows Genetic Activity of Antioxidants
Chinese 'Devil Dung' Plant Could Be a Swine Flu Fighter
The Yearly Flu Shot Debate
HEAD & NECK
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
HEARING
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Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Fatty Fish May Cut Heart Failure Risk in Men
Too-Low Blood Pressure Can Also Bring Danger
Polyunsaturated Fats Really May Lower Heart Risk
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Loves a Crowd
Viral Infection Might Trigger High Blood Pressure
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INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Stomach Germ May Protect Against Asthma
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Boosting Kids' Stroke IQ May Save Lives
MEN'S HEALTH
Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
Drinking Green Tea May Slow Prostate Cancer
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MENTAL HEALTH
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Psychotherapy Can Boost Happiness More Than Money
PAIN
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
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PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Exercise As Well As Acupuncture, May Ease Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Acupuncture May Ease Depression During Pregnancy
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
SENIORS
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Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
Video Gaming Just Might Fight Aging
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Natural Therapies for Menopause
Active Young Women Need Calcium, Vitamin D
Vitamin D Deficiency Puts 40% of U.S. Infants and Toddlers At Risk
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Breast-Feeding May Protect a Woman's Heart

Although many women choose to breast-feed because of the numerous health benefits it offers their offspring, new research suggests that breast-feeding may also help the health of the mothers' hearts later in life.

In a study of nearly 300 women, researchers found that those who had not breast-fed were much more likely to have calcification or plaque in their coronary artery, aorta and carotid artery. When calcifications and plaque build up in the arteries, blood flow can be reduced, and, if enough of these deposits build up, they can cause a heart attack or stroke.

"Women who had not breast-fed were more likely to develop changes that might lead to symptomatic heart disease," said the study's lead author, Dr. Eleanor Schwarz, an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Health Care.

Results of the study will be published in the January issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Schwarz and her colleagues had previously looked at breast-feeding's effect on older women, and that study found that post-menopausal women who had breast-fed were less likely to report having heart disease. Another study on breast-feeding from a different research group recently reported in the journal Diabetes that women who breast-fed were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, a clustering of risk factors that indicate an increased risk for heart disease.

The current study included 297 women who'd had at least one baby. At the time of the study, they were 45 to 58 years old, had never been diagnosed with heart disease and had no known symptoms of heart disease.

The researchers used two imaging techniques -- electron beam tomography and ultrasound -- to assess the health of the women's blood vessels.

They found that 32 percent of the women who had not breast-fed had coronary artery calcification, compared with 17 percent of the breast-feeding moms. The researchers found calcifications in 39 percent of the aortas of women who hadn't breast-fed, versus 17 percent of the women who had. They also found plaque deposits in the carotid artery of 18 percent of the women who had not breast-fed and 10 percent of those who had.

After adjusting the data for socioeconomic status, family history and lifestyle factors, heart disease risk factors and body mass, the researchers concluded that women who had not breast-fed were five times more likely to have aortic calcifications than women who consistently breast-fed.

Schwarz said the researchers suspect that the apparent benefit from breast-feeding on later heart health stems from how a woman's body stores fat and how that fat is released -- or not released -- after pregnancy.

"A woman's body expects to go through pregnancy and then lactation," Schwarz explained. "During pregnancy, a woman's body stores fat that it expects to release during lactation. If women don't breast-feed, then the body has to deal with excessive fat."

The bottom line is that "it's really important to try to breast-feed," she said. "If you can breast-feed for three months after each pregnancy, your blood vessels are likely to be in better shape down the road."

She added that women who can't breast-feed for three months ought to try for at least a little while. "Some women may feel overwhelmed by some of the long-term breast-feeding recommendations," Schwarz said. "Our study looked at three months, but if that's not possible, the longer you can stick with it, the better."

Dr. Catherine McNeal, an associate professor of medicine and a specialist in cardiovascular disease prevention at Scott & White Healthcare, said she agrees that a decrease in fat mass after pregnancy is probably the factor that's providing a heart benefit to women who breast-fed.

"We used to think of fat as this inert material, but it's very bioactive," McNeal said. "It produces a plethora of bad hormones and inflammatory markers that influence blood pressure, lipids and the risk of diabetes."

McNeal said that the study provided preliminary data "and we need to look at this area more closely, but I'm excited to see they found a positive effect of breast-feeding."

SOURCES: Eleanor Schwarz, M.D., assistant professor, medicine, epidemiology, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Health Care, Pittsburgh; Catherine McNeal, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, internal medicine and pediatrics, Scott & White Healthcare, Temple, Texas; January 2010, Obstetrics and Gynecology Published on: December 21, 2009