Breastfeeding protects mothers by reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, new study reveals. In addition to providing health benefits for infants, breastfeeding offers metabolic benefits for mothers. Scientists did not previously know the underlying causes explaining this mechanism. But by study pregnant mothers and lactation over time a team of scientists identified long-term improvements in pancreatic beta cell mass and function. They also identified improvements in glucose tolerance associated with lactation. Researchers linked the hormone prolactin to serotonin production and proliferation of the beta cells.
The new study provides an explanation for the beneficial effects of lactation. Pregnancy imposes a substantial metabolic burden on women through weight gain and insulin resistance. Lactation reduces the risk of maternal post-pregnancy diabetes. Scientists have now identified long-term beneficial effects of lactation which last for years after the cessation of lactation. For the study, scientists recruited pregnant women with impaired glucose tolerance or full-blown gestational diabetes.
About half of the women breastfed their babies and half did not. Two months after delivery, lactating and non-lactating mothers had similar blood glucose concentrations after a glucose tolerance test. But three and a half years after delivery women who had breastfed their babies had significantly lower blood glucose concentrations. Researchers also noticed better beta cell function in women who breastfed their babies. Beta cells produce and secrete serotonin.
Researchers did a series of experiments in the animals. The team found that prolactin binds to beta cells and triggers serotonin production. Prolactin is a hormone produced when humans or mice make milk. Prolactin then increases beta cell proliferation and insulin production. Insulin helps glucose enter the body’s cells from the blood.
In type 2 diabetes, cells become insulin resistant and less able to absorb enough glucose. The pancreas is forced to make more insulin until it can’t keep up and blood sugar rises. Researchers say that the study provides new and interesting data on beta cell function