Low Zinc Levels From Gene Mutation Increase Risk Of Breastfeeding Problems

First Posted: Dec 24, 2015 08:20 PM EST

Low levels of zinc have been linked to problems in breastfeeding, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Penn State University found that women with low zinc levels were more likely to have trouble breastfeeding because of a gene mutation to the ZnT2 protein. In the study, they found that more than one-third of the women had the mutation.

"We had no idea that genetic variation in ZnT2 would be so common," said Dr. Shannon Kelleher, an associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology and pharmacology at Penn State, in a news release.

While low levels of zinc can make breastfeeding difficult as it's necessary for both the growth and function of mammary glands and secretion pathways, the gene mutation can result in a severe deficiency in exclusively breastfed infants.

During the study, researchers examined 54 breastfeeding women. They found that 36 percent had at least one mutation in the protein ZnT2--resulting in abnormal levels of zinc in breast milk. The women were split into four groups based on breast milk zinc levels, with 79 percent of women with the lowest zinc levels having a mutation and another 29 percent of women with the highest zinc levels having mutations. 

Researchers are hopeful that the study results will help prompt the testing of more women for low zinc levels.

The study is published in the Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia.

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