Breastfeeding may be a cost-effective intervention aimed at reducing the long-term risk of developing type 2 diabetes among women with gestational diabetes, scientists have found.
Researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen in Germany studied the metabolism of women with gestational diabetes after giving birth.
Along with partners at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the German Centre for Diabetes Research (DZD), they were able to show that breastfeeding for more than three months brings about long-term metabolic changes.
Four per cent of all pregnant women in Germany develop gestational diabetes before the birth of their child, researchers said.Although their blood sugar levels initially return to normal after delivery, one in two of the mothers affected develops type 2 diabetes within the next ten years.
While it has been shown that lactation can lower this risk by 40 per cent, the reasons for this are not yet understood.
In an earlier study, researchers led by Professor Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, Director of the Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) at the Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, showed that breastfeeding for more than three months postpartum has a protective effect, which lasts for up to 15 years after gestational diabetes.
In the recent study, they examined whether the metabolism could be responsible for this.
For their analyses, scientists examined almost 200 patients who had developed gestational diabetes. The participants in the study received a standardised glucose solution and gave a fasting blood sample beforehand, and during the test.
The scientists then compared the samples on the basis of 156 different, known metabolites. On average, the women had given birth three and half years earlier.
“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,” said first-author Daniela Much from the IDF.
“Longer periods of lactation are linked to a change in the production of phospholipids and to lower concentrations of branched-chain amino acids in the mothers’ blood plasma,” Much said.
This is interesting because the metabolites involved were linked in earlier studies with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, researchers said.
“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,” said Sandra Hummel, head of the Gestational Diabetes working group at the IDF, who led the study.The research was published in the journal Diabetologia.