Breastfeeding reduces Type 2 diabetes risk in mothers

Breastfeeding enhances insulin production and sensitivity, protecting mothers from type 2 diabetes.


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A mouse study presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting, ENDO 2023, reveals that nursing can increase the number of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and boost insulin sensitivity in mothers, potentially protecting them from type 2 diabetes later in life.

The new study examined the metabolic effects of breastfeeding vs. non-breastfeeding and investigated metabolic alterations caused by lactation. The researchers evaluated mice who became pregnant and gave birth, dividing them into two groups: those who breastfed and those whose pups were removed shortly after birth.

Mice in the lactating group were evaluated a month after the pups were weaned and compared to mice that had delivered but had not breastfed. A Yale study by Julie Hens, Ph.D. research scientist, discovered a plausible explanation for type 2 diabetes protection in moms.

The study examined changes in metabolism caused by breastfeeding and discovered that mice lactating after giving birth had greater insulin sensitivity and a higher number of insulin-producing pancreatic beta-cells than mice that did not lactate. Hens and her colleagues feel that this combination adds to the type 2 diabetes protection breastfeeding provides.

She said, “One of the triggers for the development of diabetes is the loss of beta-cells ability to produce enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance – that is, the inability of insulin to effectively lower blood sugar, noting that genetics and obesity often cause insulin resistance, which becomes worse during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester.”

According to the study, the beneficial effects of breastfeeding in mice occur through several mechanisms independent of weight loss, consistent with human findings. Hens’ goal is to disseminate the word that breastfeeding benefits both the newborn and the mother and makes people aware that breastfeeding can safeguard a mother’s metabolism. Through her work, Hens hopes to spread the word that lactation is beneficial not just to the infant but also to the mother.

She said, “We want to make people aware that lactation can protect a mother’s metabolism. By defining the mechanisms involved in this protection against diabetes, we hope this research will improve outcomes for women after childbirth and all patients with type 2 diabetes.”

The study aims to enhance outcomes for postpartum mothers and all type 2 diabetes patients. The Section of Endocrinology & Metabolism at Yale University seeks to enhance the health of people suffering from endocrine and metabolic diseases by increasing scientific understanding, applying new information to patient treatment, and training the next generation of physicians and scientists to become leaders in the field.

Yale University researchers discovered that non-lactating and lactating mice had equal overall body weights. However, the non-lactating mice had an increase in metabolically active fat, known to increase the risk of developing diabetes. Mice who did not lactate had fewer insulin-producing cells in their pancreas, which may raise their chance of developing diabetes. Furthermore, mice who did not lactate had higher insulin resistance, which occurs when cells in the muscles, fat, and liver do not respond to insulin as they should.

The study implies that the preventive benefit of nursing may be connected to effects that both boost the reserves of insulin-producing cells and reduce overall insulin resistance. Nursing may have a protective impact by increasing the reserves of insulin-producing cells and decreasing overall insulin resistance.