How Breastfeeding Can Protect You Against This Major Illness

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Breastfeeding Lowers Diabetes Risk wong sze yuen/Shutterstock

You probably already know a bunch of ways breastfeeding can benefit your baby—but did you know that nursing can also slash your odds of developing diabetes?

Previous studies have confirmed the lowered risk, but a recent German study aimed to shed light on why it's so. According to a release for the study, four percent of pregnant women in Germany develop gestational diabetes—and while their blood sugars tend to return to normal after they give birth, about half of these mothers develop type 2 diabetes within the following 10 years. According to the study's authors, lactation can reduce this risk by a whopping 40 percent.

The study picks up where previous research left off: An earlier study found that breastfeeding for more than three months postpartum can provide a preventative effect against diabetes that can last for 15 years. The more recent study explores how this works by looking at the way breastfeeding affects a woman's metabolism, which in turn can control diabetes risk.

The researchers looked at 200 gestational diabetes patients and compared 156 different metabolites from the subjects.

"We observed that the metabolites in women who had breastfed for more than three months differed significantly from those who had had shorter lactation periods," the study's first-author, Dr. Daniela Much, said in a release for the study. "Longer periods of lactation are linked to a change in the production of phospholipids [which make up the cell membrane and transport DNA] and to lower concentrations of branched-chain amino acids [which have previously been associated with type 2 diabetes] in the mothers' blood plasma." 

"The findings of our study provide new insights into disease-related metabolic pathways that are influenced by lactation and could thus be the underlying reason for the protective effect," Dr. Sandra Hummel, another study lead author, said. She explains that breastfeeding is not only an effective means of protecting against type 2 diabetes, it's also a cost-effective one.

“The aim is now to develop strategies that will improve the breastfeeding behaviors of mothers with gestational diabetes," Dr. Hummel said.

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