Breastfeeding, Belly Fat and Diabetes: Behold the Beatification of Breast-Feeding

The Holy Trinity: Madonna, Baby and The Breast
As if new moms needed two fewer excuses not to breasfeed - along comes yet another study to bolster the beatification of breast-feeding.  Type 2 diabetes and belly fat.  Behold the holy benefits of breastmilk as reported by Time magazine:

Researchers led by Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz at University of Pittsburgh found that women who breastfeed are half as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as women who do not. That's a big statistical difference, and although it's not clear what is behind the gap, scientists speculate that it has something to do with pregnancy pounds that expectant moms gain. Breastfeeding helps moms lose the abdominal fat they gain during pregnancy more efficiently. And while abdominal — or visceral — fat is important for the gestating baby's development, it can be detrimental to a mother's health if it continues to build after delivery, since it's been linked to greater risk of metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and heart disease as well as diabetes. 
Love that loop-de-loop between breastfeeding, belly fat, and metabolic disorders!  Let's forget for now the very circuitous and LONG road from breastfeeding to Type 2 diabetes.  Forget that no one is quite sure how it all gets sorted out in those decades.  Also ignore the no doubt very substantial differences between women who used formula and those who breastfed like 20, 30, my goodness, 40 years ago.  Actually, I can't quite do that as I have one sitting right across the room as I type, my mother-in-law, who was a freak to even think about let alone try breastfeeding back in the sixties.  No, she doesn't have diabetes, not because an infant suckled at her breast but because she's taken very good care of herself through the years.  

Anywhoooo, take a look-see at the headline for the online Time article:

One More Way to Avoid Diabetes: Breastfeed

Mea culpa.  Sounds like this means breastfeeding itself reduces the risk of diabetes.

Hmmm. The print version took only a slightly less definitive stand:

The Benefits of Breast-Feeding- For Mom 

Then goes on to state "...the latest research shows it has lasting health benefits for mom."

Despite the intervening decades and endless other "healthy lifestyle" choices that probably better explain the link between breastfeeding and the lower risk of diabetes.  That little problem will hardly keep this from the breastfeeding canon.   

Even my beloved Scientific American seemed to forget about the speculative nature of the link in its reporting of the study.  But at least they added this last bit at the end from the lead researcher:

Women with a higher risk for diabetes might also be less inclined to breast-feed, the authors noted. "Studies have linked obesity and insulin resistance to difficulties with breast-feeding," and in the study, women who were obese were less likely to have breast-fed.
Such is the power and wonder of Our Lady of Breast MilkWho am I to question such a noble lady? Oh just your average agnostic.

It's enough to make me beg for mercy on this gloomy, rainy day - and I did breastfeed.  I wonder how long Eleanor Schwarz did.  Anyone have the courage to ask her?  I dare you!


Anonymous said...

Did you see this study?

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

No, but I took a look, thanks. It's a study basically comparing standard infant formula (cow milk) versus ones that already have the proteins broken down (hydrolyzed). Basically, the latter was linked to lower autoantibodies related to Type 1 diabetes and thus lower risk of Type 1 diabetes. The thinking is probably that the hydrolyzed is more similar to breastmilk? - as it has more easily digested proteins?

Didn't get to read the full article so I can't give any more details. Of course the researchers haven't actually found evidence of actual diabetes - and to be clear, they're testing two different types of formula (not breastmilk) on children with family histories of diabetes. Interesting, though.