DHA Fatty Acids May Reduce Postpartum Depression

April 11, 2002

NEW YORK (MedscapeWire) Apr 12 — Several studies summarized at the 223rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society on April 8 suggest that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) fatty acid supplements given to nursing mothers may improve early infant development. DHA supplements may also reduce the incidence of postpartum depression.

"We believe that the high incidence of postpartum depression in the United States may be triggered by a low dietary intake of DHA," presenter David J. Kyle, PhD, from the Mother and Child Foundation and Advanced BioNutrition Corp in Columbia, Maryland, said in a news release. "The higher the intake of DHA, the lower the incidence of depression."

A 1998 study by Joseph Hibbeln of the National Institutes of Health found a significant inverse correlation between DHA intake and incidence of clinical depression, and a more recent study by Hibbeln found the same relationship between DHA levels in breast milk and incidence of postpartum depression. During pregnancy, the placenta pumps DHA from the expectant mother to the fetus, increasing the mother's susceptibility to depression.

Maternal diet influences the level of DHA in breast milk. "The DHA content of mother's milk in the United States is among the lowest in the world," Kyle said, noting that daily dietary intake of DHA is about 40-50 mg in US women, 200 mg in European women, and about 600 mg in Japanese women.

DHA supplements of 200 mg daily double the DHA content of nursing mothers' milk relative to those who received placebo, according to a study by Craig Jensen from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

"The toddlers who were nursed from the mums getting the extra DHA performed significantly better [on standard neurological motor function tests] than those toddlers nursed from mums who were getting the placebo," Kyle said.

Last year, the FDA approved the addition of DHA to infant formulas. Women who want to increase their DHA levels can take dietary supplements or eat more tuna, salmon, algae, and other foods rich in DHA. To avoid mercury contamination, however, current guidelines suggest limiting fish to 12 ounces of cooked fish per week during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and avoiding shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

ACS Abstract: AGFD 28 (495307). April 8, 2002.

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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