Eliminating the “baby blues” in women post-pregnancy can be done with the help of a cocktail of supplements, researchers at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) say.
According to the study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tryptophan, tyrosine and blueberry extract (with blueberry juice for anti-oxidant effects) can help women regulate proteins and chemicals within the brain that affect mood.
“Developing successful nutrition-based treatments, based on neurobiology, is rare in psychiatry,” Dr. Jeffrey Meyer, the study’s co-author, says in a statement. “We believe our approach also represents a promising new avenue for creating other new dietary supplements for medicinal use.”
Postpartum blues are common for women after they give birth. However, if they are severe, their chances of getting clinically diagnosed with postpartum depression escalates.
The supplements in the “nutritional kit,” as Meyer refers to it, were carefully chosen to compensate for an increase in the brain protein called MAO-A. The protein surge resembles a brain change that sticks around for longer periods in clinical depression. It occurs in the early postpartum phase, usually five days after giving birth.
MAO-A also breaks down three chemicals within the brain that help maintain mood: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.
When the chemicals deplete, however, it can lead to feelings of sadness.
To find this out, researchers compared two groups of mothers: 21 of which received the supplements and 20 who did not. Being an open-label study, the women knew they were taking nutritional supplements, and were instructed to take them over three days (starting on the third day after giving birth).
Five days following birth (when the baby blues typically hit), the women underwent tests to see if the kit had affected their mood. The testing included sad mood inductions (measuring the ability to ignore sad events), which involved the women reading and reflecting on statements with sentiments that conveyed pessimism, dissatisfaction and lethargy. They also listened to a sad song in the classic music genre. The women’s depressive symptoms were measured before and after the tests.
The findings were dramatic, researchers say.
They found that women who were not taking the supplements had a significant increase in their depression scores. Women who took the supplements, however, did not experience depressed moods.
“We believe this is the first study to show such a strong, beneficial effect of an intervention in reducing the baby blues at a time when postpartum sadness peaks,” Meyers says. “Postpartum blues are common and usually resolves 10 days after giving birth, but when they are intense, the risk of postpartum depression increases four-fold.”
According to the study, clinically diagnosed postpartum depression is the most common complication of child-bearing and affects 13 per cent of new mothers.
The role of other chemicals
Another study by Northwestern University last year also looked into chemicals associated with postpartum depression. Researchers there found that higher levels of oxytocin in the third trimester of pregnancy is a predictor of the severity of postpartum depression symptoms in women who had suffered from depression in the past.
The Association for Psychological Science also discovered that women with strong social support from their families during pregnancy tend to be protected from a sharp increase in a stress hormone called placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCHR).
Their study, done in 2013, revealed that pCRH levels in the third trimester were linked to the relationship between family support in pregnancy and postpartum depression symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of postpartum depression
According to the Government of Canada’s Healthy Canadians website, 7.5 per cent of women report depressive symptoms in the postpartum period.
The Canadian Mental Health Association describes the following as possible symptoms of postpartum depression:
- Feeling sad, worthless, hopeless, guilty or anxious a lot of the time
- Irritability or anger
- Loss of interest in things they once enjoyed
- Withdrawal from others
- Difficulty focusing on tasks and remembering information
- Finding it hard to concentrate, learn new things or participate in discussion
- Change in eating and/or sleeping habits
The National Institute of Mental Health adds:
- Suffering from physical aches and pains, frequest headaches, stomach problems and muscle pain
- Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
- Feeling overwhelmed