Breastfeeding Can Reduce The Risk Of Diabetes

A study from South Korea shows that breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of maternal postpartum diabetes, even years after stopping lactation.

AsianScientist (May 20, 2020) – Researchers in South Korea have found that breastfeeding can lower the incidence and reduce the risk of maternal postpartum diabetes. Their findings have been published Science Translational Medicine.

Pregnancy imposes a substantial metabolic burden on women through weight gain and increased insulin resistance. Various other factors, including a history of gestational diabetes, maternal age and obesity, further affect women’s risk of progressing to diabetes after delivery. In addition, women who have had gestational diabetes or repeated deliveries are at greater risk of postpartum diabetes.

Diabetes-related complications include damage to blood vessels, which can lead to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. Since diabetes can pose a serious threat to mothers’ metabolic health, the management of maternal metabolic risk factors is important, especially in the peripartum period. Previous epidemiological studies have reported that lactation reduces the risk of postpartum diabetes, but the mechanisms underlying this benefit have remained elusive.

In the present study, a team led by Professor Hail Kim at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) observed that the milk-secreting hormone prolactin not only promotes milk production, but also plays a major role in stimulating insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells that regulate blood glucose in the body.

While it was previously known that breastfeeding triggers the release of serotonin, a hormone that contributes to wellbeing and happiness, the researchers found that the hormone also produced in pancreatic beta cells of breastfeeding mothers. Serotonin in pancreatic beta cells act as an antioxidant and reduce oxidative stress, making mothers’ beta cells healthier. Serotonin also induces the proliferation of beta cells, thereby increasing the beta cell mass and helping maintain proper glucose levels.

The research team conducted follow-up examinations on a total of 174 postpartum women, 85 lactated and 99 non-lactated, at two months postpartum and annually thereafter for at least three years. Their results showed that mothers who had undergone lactation improved pancreatic beta cell mass and function, and showed improved glucose homeostasis with approximately 20mg/dL lower glucose levels, thereby reducing the risk of postpartum diabetes in women.

Surprisingly, this beneficial effect was maintained after the cessation of lactation, for more than three years after delivery. The researchers suggested that sustained improvements in pancreatic beta cells, which can last for years even after the cessation of lactation, improve mothers’ metabolic health in addition to providing health benefits for infants.

“We are happy to prove that lactation benefits female metabolic health by improving beta cell mass and function as well as glycemic control,” said Kim.

“Our future studies on the modulation of the molecular serotonergic pathway in accordance with the management of maternal metabolic risk factors may lead to new therapeutics to help prevent mothers from developing metabolic disorders,” he added.

The article can be found at: Moon et al. (2020) Lactation Improves Pancreatic β Cell Mass and Function Through Serotonin Production.


Source: Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; Illustration: Shelly Liew/Asian Scientist Magazine.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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