Zinc Levels, Indicator of Breast Function During Lactation: Study

Zinc Levels, Indicator of Breast Function During Lactation: Study

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 31 Dec 2015 - 17:40


According to the latest study, low levels of zinc in breast milk may serve as an indicator of breast function during lactation.

Previous researchers, Shannon L. Kelleher and group discovered that the protein ZnT2 is crucial for releasing zinc into breast milk and women who have mutant genes that encodes ZnT2 have considerably lower milk zinc levels, ultimately resulting in intense lack of zinc exclusively in breast-fed babies. Moreover the team also discovered that in mice models the investigation of ZnT2 protein modifies milk composition and deeply vitiates the ability of mice to successfully nurse their offspring.

Recently, the Penn State Health researchers revealed that genetic fluctuation, leading either in loss or gain of function may be common in women and in some cases it is connected with the signal of poor breast function. Researchers believe that by discovering women with abnormally zinc levels in breast milk, they can recognize mothers who might have problem in breast-feeding.

Study Findings: The present study showed that out of 54 breast-feeding women, 36 percent had at least one non-synonymous SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) or mutation in the protein ZnT2 and that genetic variation was linked with abnormal levels of zinc in their breast milk. Twelve variants of ZnT2 were determined in the women and five of these variants were statistically linked with abnormal zinc levels in breast milk.

Kelleher, associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology and pharmacology, College of Medicine said, "We had no idea that genetic variation in ZnT2 would be so common.”

ZnT2 protein transports zinc in particular tissues of the body that includes the mammary glands (milk secretion organ of female mammals). Women who have mutations or SNPs in ZnT2 might have problem in breast-feeding and that’s because zinc is essential for the growth of mammary glands and the function of mammary epithelial cells and secretion pathways.

However, even if they breast-feed successfully, their breast milk will contain less amount of zinc than normal, which can cause intense zinc deficiency in breast-fed infants. Infants who do not incur sufficient zinc in their diet are at a greater risk of immunological and developmental issues.

In the study, researchers allotted women according to the zinc levels into four groups, and found:

  • In the lowest levels of zinc group , women with ZnT2 variants were identified by 79 percent
  • In the highest levels of zinc group, women with ZnT2 variants were identified by 29 percent
  • Significantly with 'normal' zinc levels, no variants in ZnT2 were observed.

Although more research is required to understand how genetic variation affects milk zinc levels and breast function, these findings are crucial in discovering breast-fed infants who are at risk for zinc deficiency and also for women who might have difficulty in breast-feeding.

Journal: Exome Sequencing of SLC30A2 Identifies Novel Loss- and Gain-of-Function Variants Associated with Breast Cell Dysfunction.Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia, 2015

University: Penn State. "Low zinc levels may suggest potential breast-feeding problems."

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