Every mother-to-be worries about postpartum depression. A few have probably even wondered if fish oil could help.
This specific type of depression usually affects women in the first 3 months following the birth of her child. Symptoms are identical to those observed in traditional depression, but can also include a diminished ability for a mother to care for her baby as she would like to. You can read about risk factors & causes here.
For these reasons, it’s not uncommon for pregnant moms to look to the media for guidance.
Yet, it seems as though news reports and scientific research that makes it to mainstream media frequently adds to to this worry and only makes health supplement choices more difficult for the average woman.
One study I recently found offers so much to the field of understanding treatments like omega-3s for depression, that I believe every pregnant mom should know this about fish oil.
In looking at fish oil as a treatment for depression researchers have discovered the ratio and type of omega-3 fatty acids used is key to preventing and reducing symptoms; an important consideration that previous researchers have missed. This is important because depression affects nearly 19 million people worldwide and is difficult to treat.
Researchers have suspected that the distinct omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil may be helpful in treating the disorder, but results to date have been mixed. Until now, researchers believed deficiencies in DHA alone were to blame in individuals suffering with depression.
This belief has fueled studies which suggest an inverse relationship between omega-3 consumption and major depression, while others have concluded certain individuals like pregnant women experienced no benefit at all when taking DHA to prevent or reduce postpartum depression symptoms. Recent findings presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Miami suggest there’s more to the story, though.
In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reviewing existing data on the subject, an approach known as a meta-analysis, researchers have for the first time discovered that the ratio of DHA and EPA is a crucial factor when evaluating fish oil as a treatment for depression.
“There is now evidence from a number of double-blind studies that suggest mixed DHA/EPA has antidepressant properties, whether by itself or given along with traditional antidepressants,” explained lead researcher Dr. John Davis, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His findings are in line with much of the existing research on fish oil as a possible treatment for depression, and at the same time help explain some of the more baffling contradictions on the topic.
According to Davis, existing research shows that stand-alone EPA treatment have only minor effects on depression symptoms while stand-alone DHA treatments alone have none at all.
However, his investigations revealed that when the two fatty acids are combined in a treatment formula with a ratio of pure DHA and higher levels of EPA, the results are unmistakable and significant reductions in depression. These are particularly relevant claims given the prevalence and popularity of fish oil products with higher DHA content.
Davis also notes that these findings appear limited to those experiencing depression, as the moods of individuals who were not depressed remained unaffected. The next step for researchers is to replicate these findings with larger populations and then identify the exact dosage guidelines for people suffering from depression.
At this point, it is still unclear whether a DHA/EPA mix can be used to fully replace traditional antidepressants taken by individuals with depression. “Depression is a very serious disorder. If someone is depressed, they should not just buy something off the shelf and rely only on that. They should be evaluated by their mental health professional who can determine the most appropriate course of therapy,” says Edythe London, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.