Breastfeeding for longer could reduce the risks of of infants developing obesity later in life, a new study has revealed.
Researchers in Spain discovered that lengthening the period when baby mice feed on breast milk protected them against obesity as adults.
The study found that breastfeeding sends a protein called fibroblast growth factor 21 from the liver to the hypothalamus, the brain’s control centre.
Scientists say the baby mice exposed to more FGF21 were less likely to gain excess weight later in life.
Now further research is needed to see if the same evidence can apply to humans.
Newsflash obtained a statement from the University of Santiago de Compostela, in which study lead Luisa M. Seoane said: “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 in adulthood.”
The university added: “The results obtained show that the young rodents maintain this protective effect even when exposed to diets with a high caloric content.
“According to the authors, this phenomenon can be explained by the release of a protein known as fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) from the liver, which can reach the hypothalamus, the region of the brain that plays a key role in controlling energy consumption and utilisation in the body.”
The scientists say that their evidence shows that the rodents are less likely to become obese in adulthood if they are breastfed for longer.
This remains true even if they are exposed to a high-fat diet.
The team included experts from the University of Santiago de Compostela’s Centre for Research in Molecular Medicine and Chronic Diseases, the Institute of Health Research of Santiago de Compostela, and the Spanish Biomedical Research Centre in Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition.
The University of Santiago de Compostela said: “Although the impact of maternal nutrition on the offspring has been studied extensively, the mechanisms by which it influences energy balance throughout life were not yet known.”
And Seoane added: “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.”
But the experts also said: “Future research is, however, needed to determine whether these effects also occur through clinical studies and to better understand the long-term metabolic benefits of breastfeeding.”
The new study was published in the academic journal Nature Metabolism on Monday, 25th July, under the title ‘Prolonged breastfeeding protects from obesity by hypothalamic action of hepatic FGF21’.
It was authored by a large group of scientists and researchers led by Luisa M. Seoane of the University of Santiago de Compostela. Its first authors are Veronica Pena, Cintia Folgueira and Silvia Barja.