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Fish Oil Cuts Postpartum Depression Risk for Pregnant Women

Postpartum Depression Prevented With Fish Oil

New study released today reveals yet another reason why women should love their fish oil: it may cut their risk of postpartum depression significantly. Fish oil supplementation is already being recommended for pregnant women to benefit the health of the baby, however this new discovery demonstrates that it may benefit mothers as well.

Protecting Against Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is defined by the National Institute of Health as “moderate to severe depression” in women within 1 year after giving birth to a baby. However, it most often occurs during the first three months after birth. In some cases the postpartum depression can be so severe the mother may develop negative, and sometimes harmful, feeling towards the baby leading her to be unable to care for her child. Postpartum depression affects 1 in 4 women after birth, making prevention and early recognition essential for the well being of both the mother and baby.

Researchers from the University of Connecticut School of Nursing conducted a study involving 52 pregnant women, whose results are being presented at the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting in Washington, D.C. The researchers gave each of the study participants either a placebo pill or a fish oil capsule with 3000 mg of DHEA from week 24 of their pregnancy until delivery. After birth women were evaluated using the Postpartum Depression Screening Scale which asses feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, loss of self, emotional liability, changes in eating/sleeping behavior, and suicidal thoughts.

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The researchers found that the women treated with the fish oil scored significantly lower on the Postpartum Depression Screening Scales, reporting less anxiety and loss of self.

"DHA consumption during pregnancy – at levels that are reasonably attained from foods – has the potential to decrease symptoms of postpartum depression,” concluded the study's author Dr. Michelle Prince Judge, a faculty member of the University of Connecticut School of Nursing. However, the study group was too small to determine a significant decrease in diagnosable postpartum depression.

Currently, experts recommend a minimum of 2000 mg of fish oil daily during pregnancy for the developmental health of the baby. Women can meet these levels through consumption of high-omega foods, such as salmon, at least 2 to 3 times per week, or through supplementation. However, despite recommendations, women are still only consuming an average of 50-70 mg per day.

Fish Oil Benefits Overall Health

Fish oil contains Omega 3's, also called DHEA, which is a fatty-acid found in fish, oils and nuts and has been linked to the prevention of many different diseases. Most notably, fish oil has been proven to protect against cardiovascular disease, inflammation, improve mental function, and prevent vision loss. Dr. Michelle Prince Judge, also participated in another study which found that infants who's mothers consume fish oil supplements during pregnancy actually showed improved overall health and development up to 1 year of age.

“The bottom line? Although larger-scale intervention studies will be needed to better understand the mechanisms and magnitude by which fish oil consumption can improve postpartum mental health, women would be wise to eat at least a serving of high-omega-3 fish 2-3 days per week,” concluded the press release report from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.