New research shows that infants who were not exclusively breastfed for a full six months, as well as those who were born to obese mothers, were more likely to develop fatty livers in their teenage years.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common liver disorder affecting up to 25% of Americans. It occurs when excess fat cells build up in the liver in people who consume little to no alcohol. While some individuals with NAFLD do not develop serious liver problems, others may end up with severe liver disease. NAFLD is increasing in children with studies showing it to be the most common liver disease in children aged 2-19 years.
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Researchers from the University of Western Australia wanted to find out what type of influences during infancy could be associated with NAFLD. They examined the records of over 1,100 seventeen-year-olds and also performed liver ultrasounds on these teens, who had been followed since before birth as part of the Western Australia Pregnancy Cohort study.
Approximately 165 of the study participants were diagnosed with NAFLD. The children who were formula fed before they reached six months of age had a 40% increased risk of developing NAFLD as teens. Additionally, if a mother was classified as obese at the start of pregnancy, her child’s risk of developing NAFLD doubled.
“A healthy weight of the mother and support with initiation and persistence with breastfeeding may have later benefits for the liver in their children,” explained lead investigator Oyekoya T. Ayonrinde. “This provides additional reasons to support opportunities for women to breastfeed their infants for at least six months while delaying the start of infant formula milk. The important nurturing role of mothers in child health should not be underestimated.”
The study, which was published in the Journal of Hepatology, is one of the first studies to examine the link between breastfeeding and liver disease. The results of the study demonstrate that a mother’s health and decisions made in early infancy likely have a significant impact on the health of future generations.