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A 20-year study that tracked 704 women from before their first pregnancy onward suggests that the first year mothers breastfeed, they reduce their risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes within the next 15 years by 15 percent. Each subsequent year of breastfeeding further reduces the risk by 15 percent. For example, a mother who has two children and breastfeeds each for a year could enjoy a 30 percent reduction in her risk of type 2 over a 15-year period.
The study, conducted by HMO Kaiser Permanente, was originally intended to track the development of heart disease in the 704 women. Along the way, though, the exhaustive study picked up so much information on the women's lifestyle habits, pregnancies, and general health that the researchers were able to extrapolate information directly linked to breastfeeding's effects on metabolic syndrome, the precursor to type 2.
At the beginning of the study, none of the subjects had metabolic syndrome. Over its 20-year duration, however, 120 developed the cluster of risk factors, including high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides and blood glucose levels, excess belly fat and weight, and high cholesterol, that often lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
When researchers looked across their large database for common factors leading to metabolic syndrome or working against it, they found that the duration of breastfeeding seemed to have a direct effect on metabolic syndrome and the later development of type 2. Compared to mothers who did not breastfeed, for example, women who breastfed from one to five months reduced their risk for future metabolic syndrome by 39 percent. Women who breastfed for more than nine months lowered their risk of metabolic syndrome by 56 percent.
There was also good news for women who develop gestational diabetes during their pregnancies. Depending on the number of months they breastfed, they reduced their risk of metabolic syndrome from 44 to 86 percent. Because gestational diabetes quadruples the risk of eventually acquiring type 2, lowering the chance of developing the precursor to type 2 was a welcome side effect of breastfeeding.
Further welcome news from the study is that breastfeeding new mothers lose their pregnancy weight more quickly than new moms who don't breastfeed. The Kaiser researchers said that their findings suggest that breastfeeding may be linked to a reduction in belly fat, one of the culprits in the development of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
The Kaiser study confirms conclusions reached in a 2005 Harvard Medical Study that analyzed data from two medical studies involving 160,000 nurses. That study showed a lowered risk of developing diabetes in women who breastfed.
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