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Does Diabetes Run in Your Family? Women Who Did This Cut Their Risk in Half

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
One way women can avoid type 2 diabetes.

According to the findings of a new study, researchers found that regardless of race, lifestyle behaviors, body size and other metabolic risk factors associated with the risk of developing diabetes, these women unknowingly cut their risk in half--and it had nothing to do with changing their diet!


When it comes to treating your diabetes it always includes making changes in your diet. However, researchers have recently discovered that women-regardless of their race, gestational diabetes, lifestyle behaviors, body size and other metabolic risk factors measured before pregnancy-who breastfed for six months of longer actually wound up cutting their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in half.

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The research published in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research found that despite having many of the risk factors associated with developing type 2 diabetes, women they had been following for a long time who nursed their newborns shared a significant reduction in cases of the 2 diabetes.

"We found a very strong association between breastfeeding duration and lower risk of developing diabetes, even after accounting for all possible confounding risk factors," said lead author Erica P. Gunderson, PhD, MS, MPH, senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

The data was gleaned from the 30 years of follow-up in which each woman had at least one live birth and was routinely screened for diabetes using diagnostic screening criteria for diabetes. Participants also reported lifestyle behaviors (such as diet and physical activity) and the total amount of time they breastfed their children.

"Unlike previous studies of breastfeeding, which relied on self-reporting of diabetes onset and began to follow older women later in life, we were able to follow women specifically during the childbearing period and screen them regularly for diabetes before and after pregnancies," stated Gunderson.

According to the news release, among the surprising findings were that the long-term benefits of breastfeeding with lower diabetes risk were similar for black women and white women, and women with and without gestational diabetes. Black women were three times as likely as white women to develop diabetes within the 30-year study, which is consistent with higher risk found by others. Black women enrolled in the study were also less likely to breastfeed than white women.

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The researchers posit that several plausible biological mechanisms are possible for the protective effects of breastfeeding, including the influence of lactation-associated hormones on the pancreatic cells that control blood insulin levels and thereby impact blood sugar.

"We have known for a long time that breastfeeding has many benefits both for mothers and babies, however, previous evidence showed only weak effects on chronic disease in women," said Tracy Flanagan, MD, director of women's health for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

"Now we see much stronger protection from this new study showing that mothers who breastfeed for months after their delivery may be reducing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to one half as they get older. This is yet another reason that doctors, nurses and hospitals, as well as policymakers, should support women and their families to breastfeed as long as possible."

Breastfeeding for at least six months reduces the likelihood of a child being overweight


News release from Kaiser Permanente Jan. 18, 2018 Kaiser Permanente "Thirty-Year National Study Shows Women Who Breastfeed Six Months or More Reduce Their Diabetes Risk by 50 Percent"

"Lactation Duration and Progression to Diabetes in Women Across the Childbearing Years" JAMA Internal Medicine, 2018; Erica P. Gunderson et al.

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