Evidence of polyunsaturated fatty acids for pregnancy related depression

While welcoming a new life into the family is often a joyous occasion; pregnancy and child birth can sometimes trigger depression in certain women. Medically, we refer this condition as perinatal depression. As a result, these women not only have poor diet and may face difficulties in performing daily tasks, some may even have suicidal or infanticidal tendencies. Additionally, fetal development can be adversely affected by maternal perinatal depression.

There have been health claims that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (or n-3 PUFAs for short) are a good remedy to combat perinatal depression. PUFAs are believed to be essential nutrients for maintaining physiological function, cognitive function and mood of both the mother and infant. Such notion is further reinforced by numerous studies which highlighted how a diet that is consistently low in n-3 PUFAs could lead to depression-like behavior.

Salmon as a source of food rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid

A recent systematic review and meta-analysis deduced that patients with perinatal depression were found to have lower level of n-3 PUFAs, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Therefore, consuming food rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids such as oily cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines), or seafood, may be beneficial to prevent perinatal depression and pregnancy induced depression. In lieu of the presence of trace amounts of contaminants in fish and seafood, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that pregnant women limit low mercury level seafood consumption to 340 g per week, which would provide the recommended amount of 200 mg DHA per day. Alternatively, n-3 PUFAs can also be obtained from omega-3 enriched eggs, algal oil or fish oil supplements.

Typical fish oil supplement in gelatin capsule

Although n-3 PUFAs may appear to be attractive alternatives for women with perinatal depression who are reluctant to receive antidepressants during pregnancy and lactation; further research is necessary to conclude benefits of n-3 PUFA supplementation in prevention and treatment of perinatal depression.



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Chun Wai Mai
Chun Wai Mai

BPharm (Hons), PhD, RPh

A pharmacist who is passionate in drug discovery, data analytics and pharmaceutical care.

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