Quest Vitamins LTD,
Issue #59: Does Breastfeeding Prevent Obesity?
It is estimated that obesity now affects 1 in 6 people world-wide with this number expected to increase during the coming decades. The cause of this is thought to be due to a decrease in exercise rather than an increase in the consumption of high calorie foods.
The age we are currently living in could be described as the 'Technology Age', and the technology boom experienced over the last twenty years is partly to blame for the decrease in energy expenditure. The use of escalators, lifts, the Internet and even automatic doors means that people are not using as much energy as they used to which results in the foods consumed not being burned off as efficiently. This means that most people are in a state of positive energy balance (more energy is going in than coming out) which results in weight gain.
However, although the age of technology has caused some cases of obesity, it is thought that this condition may have other causes as well. A recent study hypothesised that obesity could, in fact, be an inflammatory disease and it has been discovered that overweight and obese children and adults have elevated levels of known markers of inflammation including leptin.
The theory behind this claim lies with breastfeeding and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA's). LCPUFA's are essential for the early development of a baby's brain and are therefore abundant in breast milk. They are important as they inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and enhance the number of insulin receptors in various tissues. It also acts to enhance the actions of insulin along with several neurotransmitters.
It is thought that some cases of obesity are the result of inadequate breastfeeding, which leads to a marginal deficiency of LCPUFA's during the critical stages of brain development. This deficiency could lead to an imbalance in the structure and function of various neurotransmitters and their receptors, which in turn leads to a decrease in the number of dopamine and insulin receptors in the brain. These neurotransmitters, along with insulin, work by signalling the 'fed' state and therefore help to suppress appetite. Hence, it can be appreciated that if there is an imbalance of these substances, the mechanisms for the detection of the 'fed' state would be impaired and so appetite would not be suppressed as efficiently.
In conclusion to this study it was claimed that breast feeding for at least 12 months supplied the new born with LCPUFA's which help to develop normal brain function, which results in normal appetite control and a decreased incidence of obesity.
Nutrition. 2001 Nov-Dec;17(11-12):953-66