Canadian researchers create natural supplement to combat postpartum blues

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: CAMH develops natural supplement that helps with ‘baby blues’'
Health Matters: CAMH develops natural supplement that helps with ‘baby blues’
WATCH: CAMH develops natural supplement that helps with ‘baby blues’ – Apr 10, 2024

A natural supplement, invented and developed by a team of Canadian researchers, has been shown to help prevent postpartum blues and reduce symptoms of postpartum depression after giving birth, according to a new study.

The study, published Wednesday in the Lancet journal eClinicalMedicine, discovered that among the 100 participants who received four doses of the natural supplement within several days after childbirth, two-thirds (66 per cent) experienced either no symptoms or only minor symptoms of postpartum blues.

“Both postpartum blues and later symptoms of depression were lower in women who received the supplement,” said Jeffrey Meyer, the senior author and senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). “Providing this supplement in the first few days after giving birth is a crucial window to avoid depressive symptoms which is important given there is considerable risk that they may recur and have a lifelong impact.”

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Postpartum blues (also referred to as the ‘baby blues’) is a frequent syndrome of sad mood, crying spells, anxiety, restlessness, reduced appetite, and irritability, typically peaking on day five of postpartum, according to the study. When severe, Meyer said it greatly increases the risk for later postpartum depression.

Click to play video: '5 ways to help a friend with postpartum depression'
5 ways to help a friend with postpartum depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is different than the baby blues, according to CAMH, and is a deeper depression that lasts much longer. It usually starts within the first month after childbirth (although it can occur at any time within the first year) and can last weeks to months. In more serious cases, it can develop into chronic episodes of depression.

National survey data from 2019 found 23 per cent of new mothers in Canada experienced symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety after childbirth.

Diane Francoeur, CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC), said what is interesting about the Lancet study is that it focuses on a window after a baby is born, which is typically around day five of postpartum when postpartum blues can set in.

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“If you look at the baby blues, on day five, after you have your baby, this is when you get home, you realize such things like the big challenges of breastfeeding and usually the support system may dry up at this time,” she said. “The real depression sets in because this is when the chemistry’s not on your side anymore when your brain is not working.”

How can the supplement mitigate postpartum blues?

Meyer told Global News he has been researching postpartum blues for more than 15 years, which led to the latest development of the natural supplement.

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In 2009, his imaging research found that a protein called MAO-A rises dramatically in the brains of postpartum women. This protein removes important brain chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine, that support normal mood. It also acts as an oxidant and is linked to the development and progression of certain mental illnesses.

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“MAO-A has several properties, and one of them is that it removes brain chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, and in doing so, it does the opposite of an antioxidant,” he said. “The supplement was designed to counter these effects by having an antioxidant in the supplement, as well as the building blocks to serotonin and norepinephrine dopamine.”

The supplement, he said, is made of blueberry extract, which contains antioxidants, and amino acids called tryptophan and tyrosine. He said these replenish essential neurochemicals in the brain to support a healthy mood and the ability to concentrate under stress.

Click to play video: 'Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders'
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders

Once the supplement was developed, the researchers put it to the test and enrolled more than 100 postpartum participants in Toronto between January 2019 and December 2022. The participants either took four doses of the natural supplement several days after giving birth or a matching placebo.

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“It is designed to be taken between the night of day three and the morning of day five. So it’s four administrations,” Meyer said. “So it’s a small window of time from when postpartum blues starts to emerge. And it’s an opportunity with a very short period to take the supplement.”

The study found that within the supplement group, two-thirds experienced either no symptoms or only negligible symptoms of postpartum blues. And in the following six months, participants who received the supplement experienced fewer symptoms of depression with none reaching the clinical threshold of postpartum depression six months after giving birth.

According to the study, the researchers previously showed that the amino acids in the supplement do not affect their total concentrations in breast milk, which was expected since these amino acids are already found in proteins in breast milk.

Francoeur said she is happy to see the study’s results, and although she believes that added antioxidants, like blueberry juice, cannot fully resolve postpartum depression, “at least we’re looking at it from a scientific basis.”

Is it available in Canada?

The supplement, branded as ‘Blues Away‘, is set to hit the shelves in the U.S. starting this Thursday and will be available on Amazon’s U.S. site.

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However, Meyer said the supplement is also being introduced to other global markets, including Canada, with the speed of approvals contingent on each country’s regulatory mandates and review processes.

“Health Canada has been approached, but the issue is that they need to see the study, which of course just came out today,” he said. “We certainly hope that Health Canada will approve the product, but we’ll hear their feedback and of course try to address their questions.”

Global News reached out to Health Canada for comment about the approval of the supplement but did not hear back at the time of publication.

“Postpartum depression is a really important issue and one that’s underfunded for research and one that’s not really been addressed as much as it could be,” Meyer said. “And the supplement seemed like a great possibility and opportunity. And so I’m very happy with the results that we reported.”

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