Breastfeeding comes with multiple health benefits for both mother and child. Apart from boosting your child's immunity and providing protecting against many chronic ailments, opting to breastfeed your baby will also save you from many serious diseases. Experts have conducted multiple studies to study these health benefits and have already proved that a lactating mother has a lower risk for developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes if she breastfeeds her child. It must, however, be pointed out here that the mechanisms by which these risks are reduced for lactating women are still not fully understood. Now, in a new study, scientists sought to find out if the presence of excess fat, specifically visceral and pericardial fat, could help explain this finding. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism published this study.
Researchers from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center said that the presence of excess fat, specifically visceral and pericardial fat could help explain this finding. In their study titled, "The Association of Lactation Duration with Visceral and Pericardial Fat Volumes in Parous Women: The CARDIA Study."
Visceral fat and pericardial fat
Visceral fat, also known as active fat, is known to significantly increase the risk of developing chronic health issues like heart attacks, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke as well as Alzheimer's disease. It can also lead to breast and colorectal cancers. This fat actively builds up in the arteries. But visceral fat is typically stored within the abdominal cavity near critical organs like the stomach, liver and intestines. Pericardial fat, a deposit of fatty tissue located on the outside of the heart, also may influence certain cardiovascular conditions.
According to researchers, these two organ-related fats contribute to diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease. Hence, they wanted to see how breastfeeding influences these types of fat. They proceeded with the belief that If breastfeeding does affect these fats, then it means it could provide a physiologic mechanism by which they can understand how breastfeeding actually affects these two main diseases.
Visceral fat can lead to insulin resistance
Because these fats are related to insulin production and other cardio metabolic factors, weight change could influence the relationship between breastfeeding and these fats. For instance, the visceral fat that builds up around the abdomen tends to include adipokines, which are cytokines produced by fatty tissue. Adipokines secrete hormones, which influence the insulin sensitivity of the muscles. When the amount of visceral fat increases, so too does the competition for insulin binding sites, which increases the risk of developing insulin resistance or glucose intolerance.
Pericardial fat may trigger cardiovascular diseases
An increase in pericardial fat also puts additional weight on the heart and can affect its contractivity, or how it beats, which also could influence other cardiovascular diseases. Many studies till date have looked at visceral fat, or abdominal fat, and its influence on cardiometabolic health. But there are hardly any such studies on pericardial fat. But researchers say that the more pericardial fat you have, the more likely you are to get cardiovascular disease.
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How does breastfeeding make a difference?
There is a close association between breastfeeding and weight gain. Women who breastfeed do not gain more weight. This means there is less fat build-up in the abdomen or around the heart of these women. Previous studies on women in the 30-year CARDIA study have shown lactation duration is associated with a 50 per cent lower relative risk of progression to Type 2 diabetes in women, independent of their metabolic profiles and body size before pregnancy, social factors and lifestyle behaviours. Researchers are hopeful that lactation may prevent future development of cardiovascular disease in women by reversing hypertriglyceridemia during pregnancy through the removal of excess fatty acids in the production of breast milk and by preventing the lowering of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol after delivery.
Lower pericardial fat was mediated only partially by subsequent weight gain. Researchers say there are powerful systemic metabolic changes independent of overall adiposity. Hence, they say that lower fat deposition in the heart and other organs might potentially explain the protective benefits of lactation to prevent cardiovascular disease in women.