A link has been found between a hormone produced during breastfeeding and a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Prolactin is produced during breastfeeding and has been shown in previous studies to have benefits for insulin sensitivity, helping to prevent blood glucose levels rising too high. It is also involved in several other processes such as lactatio, reproduction and metabolism.
A research team from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, US, tested the effects of prolactin on more than 8,600 women in the US.
The participants were mainly white and aged between 40-60 when the trial began. Over the course of the research their health was tracked and the findings noted down.
The researchers observed those with higher prolactin levels were 27% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those who had much lower levels.
A total of 699 women had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at an average follow-up time of 22 years, and there was a correlation between type 2 development and lower levels of prolactin.
Lead author Jun Li, a postdoctoral research fellow, said: “Prolactin is a multi-function hormone – it is not only related to pregnancy and breastfeeding, it also plays an important role in many other biological functions, like metabolism, immune regulation and water balance.”
Only an associated was observed, and the study cannot prove any cause and effect, but the intriguing findings will be used to develop further studies.
The Harvard team now plan to explore the association between prolactin and type 2 diabetes, and whether it could eventually be used to develop future treatments.
Li added: “It’s too early to tell if altering prolactin concentrations is a suitable way for diabetes prevention. Future studies are needed to find out the mechanism and come up with practical strategies.”
The findings have been published in the Diabetologia journal.

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