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Breast-feeding may help protect children from developing type 2 diabetes

Dr. Kristina Lewis wrote this article as a guest columnist to the Asheville Citizen-Times. It discusses that one of the best ways to prevent type 2 diabetes in children is to prevent childhood obesity, and recently published research suggests breast-feeding infants could help reduce the risks of both.

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By Kristina Lewis, ND

Guest Columnist, Asheville Citizen-Times
July 22, 2008

A study of 10- to 21-year-old patients published in the March issue of Diabetes Care, the journal of the American Diabetes Association, found that 31.3 percent who had type 2 diabetes had been breast-fed compared to 63.5 percent of non-diabetic patients.

Researchers concluded that the reason for the reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes that often accompanies unhealthy weight gain, in the breast-fed group was by reducing the risk of childhood obesity. Breast fed babies tend to feel full sooner than those drinking from a bottle. Overfeeding among bottle-fed children has been shown to increase the amount of insulin in the baby's blood, which can lead to weight gain.

The researchers also suspect that the chemicals found in plastic bottles and the nitrates in tap water can impair the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is the hormone that doesn't work as it should in people who have diabetes. Insulin is critical to helping bring glucose, our body's main fuel source, into the cells. When insulin doesn't do its job, our bodies are like cars full of gasoline where the gas doesn't make it to the engine, and the car does not run.

Diabetes affects nearly 7 percent of people in the United States, and 90 to 95 percent of diabetics have type 2 diabetes. This form of the disease used to be called "adult-onset diabetes" as it used to only happen in older adults, 80 percent of whom were overweight. With the rates of childhood obesity on the rise, however, more and more children and adolescents are now receiving this diagnosis. Treatment typically includes exercise; strict, permanent diet changes; or medication. Untreated, diabetes can be deadly.

We can help prevent diabetes and obesity by teaching our kids good eating habits, such as consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and staying away from processed junk food and fast food. We can encourage them to exercise more and spend less time sitting in front of a TV or computer.

And, there's a lot of evidence that we can help our children get off to a healthy start through breast-feeding them in infancy. More than two decades of research have shown many benefits - lower rates of hospital admissions, ear infections, diarrhea, rashes, allergies and, now, type 2 diabetes. Plus, nursing allows for bonding between mother and child, and also can help new mothers lose extra pregnancy weight by using up extra calories.  For mothers who are able to breast-feed, this natural process is just one more step we can take to help our children and the health of our nation.

Dr. Kristina Lewis is a naturopathic doctor with Lewis Family Natural Health in Asheville.  She can be reached at 828-298-4800 or www.LewisNaturalHealth.com.  For more information about the study and diabetes:  Diabetes Care. March, 2008;31:470-475, the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, WebMD.com, FDA.gov

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