Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common liver disorder in developed countries, affecting up to one in four adults. It occurs when fat accumulates within the liver cells in people who do not consume excessive alcohol and is commonly associated with obesity and insulin resistance.
‘Breastfeeding for less than six months before commencing infant formula milk and maternal obesity at the start of pregnancy, as well as obesity in adolescent offspring, influence the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in adolescents.’
NAFLD in Adolescents
According to the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, NAFLD in adolescents has doubled in the last 20 years.
Infants who were breastfed for less than six months before starting infant formula milk and infants who had mothers who were obese at the start of pregnancy, were much more likely to develop nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) as adolescents, according to a novel study in the Journal of Hepatology.
"There have been studies into the benefits of breastfeeding on other diseases, but there is little information about benefits of breastfeeding linked to liver disease," explained lead investigator Oyekoya T. Ayonrinde.
"We therefore examined records of Australian adolescents to establish if infant nutrition and maternal factors could be associated with the subsequent diagnosis of NAFLD."
Results of Liver Ultrasound
Investigators performed liver ultrasound on more than 1,100 adolescents aged 17 years, who have been followed since before birth as part of the Western Australian Pregnancy (Raine) Cohort study. Records detailing maternal pregnancy and infant feeding were correlated with the presence of NAFLD during late adolescence.
- NAFLD was diagnosed in about 15% of the adolescents examined.
- Ninety-four percent had been breastfed as infants. The duration of breastfeeding before starting supplementary milk was four months in 55% and six months in 40%.
- Adolescent children of women who were obese at the start of pregnancy were twice as likely to have NAFLD.
- Those fed infant formula milk before completing six months of breastfeeding had a 40% increased likelihood of NAFLD.
- Offspring of mothers who smoked at the start of pregnancy had a significantly increased risk of NAFLD.
"A healthy weight of the mother and support with initiation and persistence with breastfeeding may have later benefits for the liver in their children," added Dr. Ayonrinde.
This provides additional reasons to support opportunities for women to breastfeed their infants for at least six months while delaying the start of infant formula milk. The important nurturing role of mothers in child health should not be underestimated.
Breast Milk - Best Milk for Infants
Human breast milk is indeed complex and it may contain various biologically-active constituents with a protective effect upon obesity and obesity-related conditions that remain largely unexplored. The mechanisms for this merit further study.
This study further supports the need to encourage comprehensive healthy lifestyles before and during pregnancy and prolonged exclusive breastfeeding for the long-term health benefits of future generations.
- Oyekoya T. Ayonrinde et al., Short Duration of Breastfeeding and Maternal Obesity Linked to Fatty Liver in Adolescents, Journal of Hepatology (2017)