The study, conducted by Taichung’s China Medical University, assessed 33 women — 16 healthy and 17 with PND — in the second or third trimester of their pregnancies, measuring their omega-3 levels and inflammatory markers such as tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α).
It found that the women who had PND had significantly lower omega-3 levels and significantly higher TNF-α levels.
The findings correlate with “other observational studies indicating that higher levels of DHA and EPA act as protective factors” against major depressive disorder (MDD). Furthermore, greater DHA concentration in breast milk and increased seafood consumption (rich in DHA) have been linked to lower prevalence of postpartum depression, and both DHA and EPA have proven effective in preventing and treating depressive disorders.
Omega-3 is considered vital to foetal development, serving “an important role in cellular and physiological function in the perinatal period”. The greater need for it during pregnancy could raise the risk of PND in expectant mothers, especially since the physiological and psychological stress brought on by pregnancy could “trigger the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines” such as TNF-α, which might be a “biological indicator or even harbinger” of PND.
As such, the study hypothesised that sufficient levels of omega-3 are needed to combat neuroinflammation and produce an antidepressant effect in pregnant women.
Omega-3 deficiency during pregnancy can also lead to longer depressive episodes, lasting even into the first year after delivery. This could result in psychosocial dysfunction, suicide (20% of postpartum deaths in PND sufferers are suicides), adverse childcare and poor mother-child relationships, and destructive behaviours like drug and alcohol abuse, the study detailed.
The study concluded that “future studies with larger sample sizes are also required to replicate our findings and to help elucidate the inflammation mechanism” regarding omega-3 in PND patients.
Source: Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry
“Polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory markers in major depressive episodes during pregnancy”
Authors: Jane Pei-Chen Chang, et al.