New research suggests that mothers who breastfeed may have long-lasting protection against diabetes.
Research has already supported the belief that breastfeeding protects mothers from developing Type 2 diabetes, even decades after they stopped nursing their children. The reasoning behind that protection isn’t definitive, but the current research published in Diabetes suggests that breastfeeding may change how a body uses insulin.
The study’s authors said that even though metabolic studies show pregnancy reduces a woman’s sensitivity to insulin, the act of lactating can restore it.
The researchers recruited 18 postpartum women for the study. Twelve of the women were breastfeeding exclusively, or gave their babies less than 6 oz of formula a day. The other six mothers exclusively formula-fed their babies.
When the women were five weeks postpartum, they came to the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern and had a comprehensive medical exam. The following week, the women went back for a hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp. This is a test that measures insulin sensitivity.
During that return visit, they also received tracers that measured insulin activity in organs. These stable isotopes looked at their liver specifically for impact. When they were eight weeks postpartum, they had magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure the fat in their livers.
The researchers found that all women had the expected low blood insulin concentrations that occurs during the postpartum period and that didn’t differ based on what the women were feeding their babies.
But even with those low levels, after a 12-hour fast, the mothers who were nursing produced 2.6-fold more glucose and released 2.3-fold more fatty acids that had been stored in their fat tissue than compared to the mothers who fed their babies formula.
The results suggest that breastfeeding increases insulin sensitivity in the organs that are highly-sensitive to insulin.
Dr. Maria A. Ramos-Roman is an associate professor of internal medicine in the division of endocrinology at UT Southwestern. She said that even though nursing is millions of years old, there is still a long way to go before we understand all we can learn about it. That said, she believes the more we know how it works for and in our bodies, the better it is for the health of women and children.
She additionally said that if we understood more of the process in our bodies, we could find new ways to help mothers who have a hard time with milk supply. Finding ways to stimulate insulin-sensitive tissue could help supply more nutrients (or demand less from the bloodstream) and could boost milk production for those mothers who want to nurse but find themselves without enough milk.
These changes the researchers found may also help explain how other epidemiologic studies have shown legacy benefits of breastfeeding, and how those benefits offer buffers against insulin resistance even decades later.
One more study proving that mama milk is magic!