Scientists discover why prolonged breastfeeding protects against obesity in adulthood

To show that rodent pups breastfed for longer have less likely to be obese in adulthood, even when exposed to a high-fat diet, was the last scientific milestone from the team of CIBER Galician researchers in physiopathology of obesity and nutrition (CIBEROBN), the Singular Center for Research in Molecular Medicine and Chronic Diseases of USC (CiMUS) and the Health Research Institute of Santiago de Compostela (IDIS). The work, which has just been published in the journal Nature Metabolism, was led by Luisa María Seoane, and has the collaboration of international groups from France and Germany.

“We are very pleased because, for the first time, we have described the mechanism by which breastfeeding protects against the development of obesity with long-term effects on Adulthood“, he specifies Luisa Seoane. The results obtained show that small rodents retain this protective effect, even when exposed to high-calorie diets.

Turn on the switch for brown fat, the calorie burner, in the brain

This phenomenon could be explained, according to the authors, by the release of a protein known as factor of fibroblast growth 21 (FGF21) from the liver, which can reach the hypothalamus, the region of the brain that plays a key role in controlling the consumption and use of energy in the body. Once in the hypothalamus, FGF21 activates dopamine receptors, a neurotransmitter with multiple biological functions. This, in turn, leads to increased activity of brown fat, fat that burns calories and thus leads to higher energy expenditure.

Although the impact of maternal nutrition on offspring has been widely studied, the mechanisms by which breastfeeding influences energy balance throughout life were not yet understood. “Our work describes for the first time the existence of a mechanism altered by breastfeeding with permanent effects until adulthood and which involves both peripheral organs, such as the liver or adipose tissue, and the brain”, explains the principal researcher of the CIBEROBN.

Although this is the first time that the mechanism responsible for the beneficial effects of breastfeeding has been described, and it is an unprecedented feat, the researchers recognize that “there is however a need, future research to determine if these effectss also occur in humans through clinical studies and provide insight into the metabolic benefits to long-term breastfeeding”.


The book, whose first authors are Veronique Pena, Cintia Folgueira and Silvia Barja, was directed by Luisa Seoane (CHUS-SERGAS), director of the IDIS endocrine pathophysiology research group, and Professor Rubén Nogueiras (CiMUS-USC) (Molecular Metabolism group), both belonging to CIBEROBN . The study is part of a line of research by the group that began in 2010 through a research project funded by the Galician Health Service (Xunta de Galicia) and was carried out in collaboration with different research groups. from the Clinical University Hospital of Santiago, CiMUS from USC, the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) and international groups from Lille and Marseille (France) and Lubeck (Germany).

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