Mamas on Bedrest: Fish Oil for The Prevention of Post Partum Depression

November 11th, 2011

Click to take the postpartum depression survey conducted by Case Western Reserve University http://filer.case.edu/~axp335/postpartdep.htm Thank you very much for your consideration.

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November 14, 2011 kicks off the week long Living Self Care Challenge. Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond has joined forces with Dr. Diane SanfordThe Real Mom Expert, Post Partum Progress, My Post Partum Voice, Pregnancy.org and others to encourage mamas to put their own self care on the top of their “To Do” lists.  For one week, the Living Self Care Blog will offer tips and suggestions to mamas on how to find ways to carve out a little “me time”. Participants will be eligible for prizes for their participation.

In honor of the Self Care Challenge and in an effort to raise awareness of post partum mood disorders, post partum depression in particular, I present to you now some very interesting information from one of my favorite researchers, Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. Dr. Kendall-Tackett, is a health psychologist and also an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). As previously stated on this blog Dr. Kendall-Tackett has done extensive research on the effects of chronic stress and depression on preterm labor and post partum health. Much of her work is posted on her websites UppityScienceChick.com and BreastfeedingMadeSimple.com. Here, we highlight Dr. Kendall-Tackett’s findings on the effectiveness of fish oils as a prevention for post partum depression.

In a 2007 article published on the La Leche League’s Website Dr. Kendall-Tackett discusses the role that inflammation plays in post partum depression.

When we are faced with threat, our bodies have a number of mechanisms designed to protect our lives. Three interrelated systems respond: catecholamine, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and the immune system. The catecholamine system (the fight-or-flight response) releases three neurotransmitters (chemical substances that transmit nerve impulses): norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine. The HPA axis also releases several hormones including the stress hormone cortisol. In recent years, researchers have discovered that the immune system also responds to threat by releasing molecules that increase inflammation. These molecules are known as proinflammatory cytokines and they have a causal role in depression. The proinflammatory cytokines that have been identified most consistently in depression are IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-a.

Maes and his colleagues (2000) first identified increased inflammation as being related to depression and anxiety in postpartum women. When inflammation was initially identified as a risk factor for depression, it was generally seen as one of many: one that was comparable to risk factors such as low social support, maternal history of affective (emotional) disorders or trauma, infant illness or prematurity, or low socioeconomic status. More recent research, however, has revealed that stress of all types increases inflammation, and that inflammation is the likely mechanism by which the other risk factors lead to depression. This is true for depression in general and for postpartum depression in particular. These recent studies constitute an important shift in how we think about depression: inflammation is not simply a risk factor; it is the risk factor that underlies all the others.

Pregnant and postpartum women are particularly vulnerable to these effects because their inflammation levels normally rise during the last trimester of pregnancy — a time when they are also at high risk for depression (Kendall-Tackett 2005; 2007). Inflammation serves several important functions in pregnant women including preparing their bodies for labor and protecting them against infection once the baby is born. However, in depressed women, inflammation levels are too high.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett goes on to outline how stress can lead to depression which can lead to preterm birth. She also discusses the particular causes of increased stress in pregnant and post partum women: sleep disturbances, pain and psychological trauma. What new mama isn’t experiencing any one or all of these? The good news is that there are ways to mitigate the risks and reduce the incidences of post partum depression, and Dr. Kendall-Tackett says that fish oils play an important role.

In Can Fats Make You Happy? Dr. Kendall-Tackett discusses the role of fish oils in the prevention and treatment of post partum depression. She explains that in most industrialized nations, we consume far too many Omega 6 Fatty acids (found in vegetable oils and processed foods) and not enough Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Additionally, the Omega 3 fatty acids typically used to fortify foods are Alpha linoleic Acid, a plant based Omega 3 Fatty Acids.  The long chain Omega 3 Fatty Acids docosaheaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), found in fish, have been found to be more potent in reducing inflammation and in turn, depression. In countries where high fish consumption is the norm, the rates of depression are nearly half what they are in nations where fish is rarely consumed. The problem is further compounded by the fact that many pregnant women are counseled against eating lots of fish during pregnancy due to possible mercury contamination. So Dr. Kendall-Tackett and others recommend that women take Omega 3 (fish oil) supplements.

The recommended doses of Omega 3 Fatty Acids needed to prevent (or at least lower the risk of and reducing the symptoms of post partum depression) are the following:

  • 200mg-400mg of DHA (minimum) daily. This dose may actually prove to be too low. In countries where fish consumption is high, women consume about 1000mg DHA/day.
  • 1000mg EPA for the treatment of depression
  • The US Food and Drug Administration finds Generally Recommended as Safe (GRAS) up to 3000mg/day EPA/DHA

If mamas on bed rest are concerned about their risk for post partum depression-or if they feel they may be depressed, they should first and foremost consult with their health care provider for a complete evaluation. If it is safe to do so and their provider notes no contraindications, mamas may choose to begin taking a fish oil supplement rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids DHA and EPA. Mamas should be sure that their supplements are contaminant free and are manufactured using proper (Pharmaceutical) manufacturing practices to ensure that the proper amounts of fatty acids are contained in each supplement.

Here is Fish oil Supplement Mamas on Bedrest has found that meets all of the aforementioned criteria.

What’s your take on fish oils? Share your questions and experiences in the comments section below. To keep the discussion going, chat with us on twitter (@mamasonbedrest) or on our Facebook Page. To receive our blog as soon as it is published, subscribe via RSS feed. Simply click the orange circle on the top of this page, the upper right hand corner.

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