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CHICAGO — For new mothers deciding between breastfeeding and formula, a new study finds breastfeeding may play a pivotal role in preventing Type 2 diabetes. The research suggests that breastfeeding can enhance the production of insulin cells in the pancreas and increase insulin sensitivity in women, thereby offering protection against the condition later in life.

Previous research involving women has consistently shown that extended breastfeeding reduces a mother’s overall lifetime risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. However, the exact reason for this protective effect remained elusive, explains Dr. Julie Hens, the lead investigator of the study.

Researchers initiated a study on mice to scrutinize the metabolic impacts of breastfeeding compared to non-breastfeeding and to explore the metabolic changes resulting from lactation. The team organized the study subjects – female mice that had given birth – into two categories: those who nursed their offspring, and those who were separated from their pups immediately after delivery.

One month after the pups were weaned, the researchers examined the mice from the lactating group and compared them to age-matched mice that had delivered babies but did not nurse them. The findings revealed that the body weights of both lactating and non-lactating mice were similar. Despite this, Dr. Hens observed that the non-lactating mice exhibited a specific increase in a type of metabolically active fat similar to visceral fat in humans.

This type of fat is renowned for its role in escalating the risk of diabetes development. The study author further clarified that mice that didn’t lactate had fewer insulin-producing cells in their pancreas.

“It’s often assumed that nursing leads to a lower risk of diabetes because it is associated with weight loss, which improves metabolism. However, studies in women have shown that this 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,” says Dr. Hens in a media release.

Scroll down to see the complications connected to developing Type 2 diabetes

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What is Type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body metabolizes sugar (glucose), an important source of fuel for the body. With Type 2 diabetes, the body either resists the effects of insulin, a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into cells, or doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain a normal glucose level.

More common in adults, Type 2 diabetes increasingly affects children as childhood obesity rates rise. Symptoms can include increased thirst, frequent urination (especially at night), unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores, and frequent infections. However, some people may not experience any symptoms, particularly in the early stages of the disease.

While a family history of Type 2 diabetes can increase one’s risk, both genetics and lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise, play a significant role in the onset of the disease. Being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, as does a diet high in processed or sugary foods.

Management of the Type 2 diabetes often involves lifestyle changes, such as increased physical activity, a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. Depending on the severity of the disease, medication or insulin therapy may also be required. Regular blood sugar monitoring is an important part of managing this condition.

Can diabetes lead to other health issues?

If left uncontrolled, it can lead to various complications, including heart disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney damage (nephropathy), eye damage (retinopathy and cataracts), skin and mouth conditions, and bone and joint problems, among others. In some cases, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to emergencies like diabetic ketoacidosis or a hyperglycemic hyperosmolar state, both of which are life-threatening situations.

It’s important to note that while there is no cure for Type 2 diabetes, the condition can be managed effectively with the right treatment and lifestyle changes.

The findings were presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Chicago.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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