Lactation stimulates cells in the pituitary gland to produce the hormone prolactin (1), which, in mice, binds to beta cells in the pancreas (2). This leads to a signaling cascade that increases the cell’s production of serotonin (3). Serotonin binds to a separate receptor on the beta cells, stimulating them to proliferate and produce more insulin (4), and also serves as an antioxidant that protects cells from free radicals. Researchers propose that these mechanisms explain why women who breastfeed their children have reduced long-term risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
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