Women's Breasts Are Cannibals, Eat Themselves After Breastfeeding Babies

First Posted: Oct 06, 2016 05:05 AM EDT

Women's breasts are "cannibals." This was the surprising result of a study done by a team of biologists. When pregnancy occurs, breasts undergo a transition from ordinary mammary tissue lumps to milk machines. And when breastfeeding babies is over, they eat themselves and become normal again.

But the transition is not that simple. According to Science Alert, explaining the whole process has been tough for experts especially the fact that it can occur in just a matter of days. But just recently, the facts became clear. They have discovered a cellular process that results breasts' transition from milk machines to cannibals.

It is important to take note that once breastfeeding babies is over, the body does not respond in a normal way. It does not do what it normally does when faced with dead cells. In a usual scenario, cells called phagocyctes ingest foreign matter, bacteria, and dead or dying red blood cells to clear away infections or any unwanted build-up. But when a mother stops breastfeeding, specialized 'epithelial cells' that form alveoli or tiny milk-secreting sacs self-destruct in large numbers. Such happening allows the breasts to go back to normal state. This likewise explains how women's breasts become cannibals.

Meanwhile, Linda Geddes explained for New Scientist how phacogyctes could do all the cleaning without the mother feeling pained. The truth is it would be uncomfortable for new mothers if phacogyctes alone become responsible for clearing away surplus milk and significant amounts of dead cells. They would experience pain, inflammation, and even tissue damage.

But why the absence of uncomfortable feelings? During the investigation, the team led by Nasreen Akhtar from the University of Sheffield focused on and singled out the protein Rac1. It plays an important role in both milk production and phagocytosis.

After breeding mice unable to produce Rac1, scientists observed the occurrences when they had pups. The first litter survived, although they were smaller than normal. The subsequent litters did not survive. From the first pregnancy, the mice had excess milk and dead cells that clogged up the breast tissue. Due to severe swelling and inflammation, the mice were not able to produce enough milk for their new babies.

The research emphasized the importance of Rac1 in phagocytic activity. The protein likewise encourages dead or dying epithelial cells to eat each other. According to Daily Mail, this discovery could also help identify why some cells become cancerous. This is due to the fact that the epithelial cells becoming cannibals at the alveoli when breastfeeding babies is over are the same cells that most cancers come from.

Indeed, the discovery about women's breasts being cannibals can lead to further studies and useful findings. Developmental Cell has published the results of this research. In the time being, it is also undeniable that breastfeeding benefits a lot of babies. Popular Science reported that it is like vaccinating a child without actual vaccinating due to the level of protection it can give. It is worthy of all extensive studies done by the experts.

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