Breastfeeding can improve the number of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and increase insulin sensitivity in mothers, helping to protect them against type 2 diabetes in later life.
Previous Yale research reveals that prolonged breastfeeding lowers a mother’s subsequent lifetime risk for Type 2 Diabetes. The cause was however not known according to a lead researcher from Yale University, Dr. Julie Hens.
Her research team designed the new study in mice to compare the metabolic effects of breastfeeding to non-breastfeeding and to investigate changes in metabolism that are the result of lactation.
The researchers studied mice who became pregnant and delivered their pups and split them into two groups – those that nursed and those whose pups were removed immediately after birth.
Mice in the lactating group were then studied a month after the pups were weaned and compared to aged-matched mice that had delivered but not nursed.
They found that the non-lactating mice and lactating mice had similar body weights overall.
The non-lactating mice had an increase specifically in a type of metabolically active fat, analogous to the visceral fat in humans that is well known to increase the risk of developing diabetes.
Dr. Hens explained that mice that did not lactate and had fewer insulin-producing cells in their pancreas.
‘’Having fewer of these cells means the body has less insulin production, which might contribute to an increased risk of developing diabetes. Mice that did not lactate also had more insulin resistance, which occurs when cells in the muscles, fat and liver do not respond as they should to insulin. Over time, this can stress the insulin-producing cells, causing them to fail and leading to diabetes” Said Dr. Julie Hens
Presenting the findings at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Chicago, she added that it is always assumed that nursing leads to a lower risk of diabetes, associating it with weight loss, and improves metabolism, however, studies show that the protective effect is independent of weight loss
“Our study in mice also corroborates these findings and suggests that the protective effect of nursing may be related to effects both to increase the reserves of insulin-producing cells and to lessen whole body resistance to the effects of insulin.” Said Dr. Hens
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Eunice Anyango Oyule and Virginia Van Zandt