New research suggests postpartum depression may be associated with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.

Omega-3’s are considered essential fatty acids, meaning that they cannot be synthesized by the human body but are vital for normal metabolism. Dietary sources for Omega-3’s include cold water oily fish, fish oil and some plant and animal products.

Gabriel Shapiro, Ph.D.,  of the University of Montreal reviewed literature that associates pregnancy, omega-3 and the chemical reaction that enables serotonin, a mood regulator, to be released the brain.

Researchers acknowledge that women are at the highest risk of depression during their childbearing years, and that the birth of a child may trigger a depressive episode in vulnerable women. Postpartum depression is associated with diminished maternal health as well as developmental and health problems for her child.

“Many women could bring their omega-3 intake to recommended levels,” Shapiro said.

Because omega-3 is transferred from the mother to her fetus and later to her breastfeeding infant, maternal omega-3 levels decrease during pregnancy, and remain lowered for at least six weeks following the birth.

Researchers are also finding that in addition to the specific biological circumstances of pregnant women, many in the U.S. do not consume sufficient amounts of omega-3.

“These findings suggest that new screening strategies and prevention practices may be useful,” Shapiro said, noting that the study was preliminary and the further research would be needed to clarify the link and identify the reasons for it.

The findings were published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Source: University of Montreal