Due to hormones, lack of support, birth trauma, past experiences and many other factors, some moms experience sadness, may become weepy or even have postpartum depression. Some of these moms seek help from their health care provider and are prescribed an antidepressant. If that’s working for you, I’m happy that you have found a solution. It’s important to feel well and be functional. You are an awesome person and parent! But what if you are hoping to avoid pharmaceuticals and you want to try something a bit more natural? Omega-3’s baby! Let’s talk about those Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids: EPA & DHA. I want to give credit to Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC, FAPA. As this information comes from attending her lectures and reading her book, A Breastfeeding-Friendly Approach to Postpartum Depression. “I love the Uppity Science Chick”. You can find out more about her at http://www.uppitysciencechick.com/
Here in the United States and in other industrialized countries, most women are deficient in EPA and DHA due to diet. EPA keeps inflammation in check. This can be helpful in many areas of your body – joints, muscles, skin, gut, and even your brain. DHA is the building block of your brain, eyes and heart. DHA also helps your cells talk to each other. Pregnant and postpartum women are at a higher risk of being deficient since the growing baby “steals” EPA and DHA from mom to build their developing nervous system. In other words, we sacrifice for our children long before they’re born. That’s ok: that’s what parents do!
OK, so we’ve established what EPA/DHA are and that deficiency is common, but what do we do about that deficiency? According to a 2006 American Psychiatric Association panel, the long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids components DHA and EPA can help prevent and effectively treat depression. (Akabas & Deckelbaum, 2006; Peet & Stokes, 2005) Omega 3’s are found abundantly in seafood, however, it can be difficult for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers to safely consume the amount of seafood needed to have a therapeutic effect because of concerns of toxicity due to contaminants in our seafood. So, what’s a girl to do? Supplements! Bear in mind, not all supplements are created equal, some are higher in mercury, PCB’s, and other contaminants. The US Pharmacopeia has compiled a list of safe products. You can find their list here: http://www.quality-supplements.org/verified-products/verified-products-listings#list7 200-400 mg of DHA is the current minimum recommended dose to prevent depression. For treatment of depression the dose of EPA is 1000 mg, usually in combination with medications and/or DHA. Remember: always consult with your healthcare provider when starting a new treatment plan.
In addition to the benefit of taking EPA/DHA for depression, these nutrients have anti-inflammatory benefits. Interestingly, studies have shown that there is a connection between inflammation and depression. EPA/DHA has been shown to decrease levels of proinflammatory cytokines. (Cytokines are how your cells talk to each other). Ferrucci et al., 2006 found that persons with high levels of Omega-3s in their blood had low levels of proinflammatory cytokines. Even people with body aches and pains can benefit from taking Omega-3’s!
Now, is there a connection between depression and inflammation? Yes! During the last trimester of pregnancy those proinflammatory cytokines rise. When they’re within normal ranges they help prevent infection and prepare for labor. However, when high levels are present, it’s a marker for depression. What does the body do to help lower those? It raises cortisol- an anti-inflammatory agent! But cortisol is also a stress hormone! Inflammation also increases cortisol. Cortisol is often high in depressed persons. Do you see the cycle here? Pregnancy increases inflammation, the body attacks with a hormone to decrease that inflammation, but that hormone increases stress, which increases inflammation.
In summary, these healthful supplements of Omega-3’s EPA/DHA may help you heal from depression and reduce inflammation. Combine them with doing something regularly that you love: walk, read, exercise, sing, swim, color, talk to a friend. Most importantly, if you are feeling like you may hurt yourself or your baby, immediately call your healthcare provider, 911 or Postpartum Support International at 800-944-4773. You are not alone and there is help. Someone cares deeply for you and loves you. You are important.