Breastfeeding protects mothers from  liver disease, UCSD study shows

SAN DIEGO — Mothers who breastfeed for at least six months have a lower risk of developing fatty liver disease later in life, according to a study released Thursday by UC San Diego medical researchers.

The researchers from the UCSD School of Medicine collaborated with Kaiser Permanente for the study, which found that women who breastfed at least one child for six months or more had a lower risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease than women who breastfed for one month or fewer.

In addition, the women in the sample diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tended to have a higher body mass index, a bigger waist circumference and a higher amount of triglycerides in their blood than study participants who weren’t diagnosed with the disease.

“Breastfeeding and its benefits to the child have been widely studied for years,” said UCSD Health Dr. Veeral Ajmera. “However, this new analysis contributes to the growing body of evidence showing that breastfeeding a child also offers significant health benefits to the mother — namely, protecting her from developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in middle age.”

Researchers tracked data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study for a sample of 844 black and white women between 1985 and 2015. Researchers monitored and assessed each woman every two to five years. Each woman received a computed tomography scan of their midsections, and specifically their livers, at the end of the study.

During the study — theresults were published in the Journal of Hepatology — the research team controlled for pre-pregnancy metabolic risk factors like obesity and diabetes, allowing them to isolate the correlation between breastfeeding and reduced risk for the liver disease, Ajmera said.

“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and all metabolic diseases have a unique relationship with socioeconomic factors,” the hepatologist said. “The inclusion of additional information regarding diet and exercise only further strengthen our claim that breastfeeding is beneficial in the prevention of non- alcoholic fatty liver disease.”

There are no prevention options currently available for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease other than weight loss and living a healthy lifestyle. According to Amjera, more study is needed into exactly how and why breastfeeding and lactation limit fatty liver disease risk.