Fish Oil Shows Promise for Relief of Postpartum Depression Symptoms

Fish Oil Shows Promise for Relief of Postpartum Depression Symptoms

Expectant mothers who consume omega-3 fatty acids may significantly reduce their risk for experiencing postpartum depression. In a small clinical trial, researchers from the University of Connecticut School of Nursing found that women who took omega-3 fish oil supplements during pregnancy suffered fewer symptoms of postpartum depression.

Although many new mothers experience the baby blues after childbirth, encountering mood swings, crying spells, and fading quickly, one in eight women are affected by postpartum depression. In addition to a depressed mood, these women may suffer daily from a variety of symptoms including agitation and irritability, decreased appetite, difficulty concentrating, feeling guilt or worthlessness, negative feelings toward their newborn, and even thoughts of death or suicide. In severe cases, symptoms can last for more than a year, even with the help of medication and counseling.

The new research suggests that by consuming omega-3 fatty acids on a regular basis during pregnancy, mothers-to-be build up a stock that can boost a their mental health months later. An abundance of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in oily fish such as salmon and tuna.

For their study, the researchers followed 52 women, of which 26 took a fish oil capsule containing 300mg of the omega-3 fat DHA five times weekly starting at about the 24th week of pregnancy. The remaing 26 expectant mothers took a placebo pill containing corn oil. After childbirth, new mothers who had taken the omega-3 capsules attained a more positive score on a questionnaire regarding symptoms of postpartum depression.

Although the size of the study did not allow for a determination as to whether the consumption of DHA resulted in a lower incidence of postpartum depression, those women who took the fish oil capsules had significantly less symptoms of postpartum depression than did those who took the placebo. According to University of Connecticut researcher Dr. Michelle Price Judge, “DHA consumption during pregnancy—at levels that are reasonably obtained from foods—has the potential to decrease symptoms of [post-natal] depression.” She also pointed out that although some women may prefer the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements, eating fish is the more nutritious option.

However, over-consumption of oily fish during pregnancy can be detrimental to the development of an unborn child. Therefore, experts advise mothers-to-be to balance their omega-3 intake. In addition, certain fish contain high levels of toxic pollutants such as mercury, and it is important that expectant mothers monitor their intake. For example, intake of mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout, should be eaten limited to twice weekly, while shark, swordfish and marlin should not be consumed at all. As for tuna, intaqke should be limited to two steaks, or four medium-sized cans weekly. Experts also recommend avoiding the intake of cod liver oil during the first three months of pregnancy. For expectant mothers who prefer omega-3 supplements, the capsules can be taken throughout pregnancy so long as they do not also contain vitamin A.

Because the size of the trial was small, further studies will be necessary to determine the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acid consumption during pregnancy against postpartum depression. Dr. Price Judge acknowledged that although the findings of the study show a positive correlation between fish oil intake and a decrease in postpartum depression, the data collected is not sufficient for making any definitive assessments. The findings of the research were recently presented at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Washington, D.C.


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