Breastfeeding Boosts Vision
Breast-fed babies may be at lower risk for developing nearsightedness (myopia) than are formula-fed babies, reports the Journal of the American Medical Association (2005;293:3001–2).
Myopia is a common disorder of vision affecting about 30% of Americans. People with myopia can focus on objects that are close to the eye but they have difficulty seeing objects in the distance. The condition is usually discovered in children between ages 8 and 12.
In the new study, parents of 797 Singaporean children (ages 10 to 12) completed questionnaires regarding breast-feeding history. Among children who had been breast-fed, the duration and type of breast-feeding—exclusive (using no formula), mostly (using nonformula supplements), or partly (using formula supplements)—were recorded.
At the time of the study, about 65% of the children were myopic. (It should be noted that the rate of myopia among Singaporean children is about two times higher than that of children in the United States.) Children who had been breast-fed had up to a 42% lower chance of being nearsighted than those who had not been breast-fed at all. The duration and type of breast-feeding were not associated with the risk of myopia, suggesting that any amount of breast-feeding may be protective.
Breast milk is an easily digestible, perfect first food for babies. It is cost-effective, requires no preparation, and helps promote healthy mother–baby bonding. Studies have shown that breast-feeding helps to build a healthy immune system, leading to a lower incidence of diarrhea, respiratory infections, ear infections, meningitis, urinary tract infections, botulism, and a severe infection of the intestines (necrotizing enterocolitis). It may also help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), certain cancers, and allergic diseases such as asthma and eczema.
Breast-feeding also appears to enhance brain (cognitive) development. Breast-fed babies tend to have higher IQs than their formula-fed counterparts. Specifically, fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) found in breast milk are thought to promote healthy brain and eye development. Because of this, these nutrients are now added to many infant formulas. However, breast milk is not a static entity; it changes in amount and composition based on the differing needs of the baby at different ages. Simply adding fatty acids to infant formula is not likely to create a food with all of the health-promoting benefits of human breast milk.
The results of this new study add to a large body of evidence suggesting that breast milk is the optimal food for babies. Studies of other populations are warranted to further explore the effects of breast milk on visual development.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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