Prolonged breastfeeding protects against obesity in adulthood

Breastfeeding baby breastfeeding

A breastfed baby. // Alfonso Cerezo / alfcerme (Pixabay)

SINC Agency
| 2022-07-26 – 20:00

Prolonged breastfeeding can protect against obesity in adulthood even if a high-fat diet is followed. So says one study carried out on mice and led by researchers from several Galician institutions. The results are published in the journal Natural metabolism.

This work explains the mechanism responsible for this protective effect via the hepatic protein FGF21 and could lead to new research to better understand the metabolic benefits long-term breastfeeding.

“For the first time, we have described the mechanism by which breastfeeding protects against the development of obesity with long-term effects in adulthood,” he says. Luisa Seoane, of the Center for Biomedical Research in Physiopathology of Obesity and the Nutrition Network (CIBEROBN). The data obtained show that small rodents maintain this protective effect even when exposed to high-calorie diets.

A protein that triggers fat burning

This phenomenon is explained, according to the authors, by the release of a protein known as fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) of the liver, which can reach the hypothalamus. This region of the brain plays a key role in controlling the consumption and use of energy in the body.

Galician researchers

From left to right, the researchers who conducted the study: Raquel Pérez Lois, Verónica Peña, Silvia Barja, Luisa Seoane, Cecilia Castelao, Cintia Folgueira and Patricia González. // RPG

Once in the hypothalamus, FGF21 activates dopamine receptors, a neurotransmitter with multiple biological functions. This, in turn, leads to increased activity of the brown fata special type that burns calories and leads to higher energy expenditure.

Thus, prolonged breastfeeding is a protective mechanism against obesity by causing physiological changes lasting in the communication of the liver to the hypothalamus and the regulation of the latter’s metabolism.

Uncertainties and challenges to be resolved

Maternal diet and infant feeding are considered determinants of neurodevelopmental and behavioral responses that can influence metabolic health across the lifespan.

However, the mechanisms why breastfeeding influences long-term energy balance was not yet known. “Our work describes for the first time the existence of a mechanism altered by breastfeeding with permanent effects until adulthood and which involves peripheral organs, such as the liver or adipose tissue, and the brain” , explains Seoane.

Although this is the first time that the mechanism responsible for the beneficial effects of breastfeeding has been described, the researchers acknowledge that “more research is needed. more to research determine whether these effects also occur in humans through clinical studies and better understand their lasting metabolic benefits,” concludes the CIBEROBN researcher.

Reference: Pena-Leon, V., Folgueira, C., Barja-Fernández, S. et al.. “Prolonged breastfeeding protects against obesity through the hypothalamic action of hepatic FGF21. revista Natural metabolism (2022) | DO I: 10.1038/s42255-022-00602-z.

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