Are you at risk of, or experiencing, postpartum depression? Would you like a more natural alternative to drug therapies? Chances are your diet is lacking in essential fatty acids and eating more fish or taking fish oil supplements could make all the difference.
First, let's clarify what we mean by postpartum depression, or postnatal depression. This is a form of clinical depression, usually lasting for several months. It's characterised by feelings of sadness, anxiety and irritableness, fatigue, insomnia, appetite changes, reduced libido and crying episodes. It shouldn't be confused with maternity blues or 'baby blues', which generally last only a few hours or days.
But whether you're experiencing postpartum depression or a dose of the baby blues, it seems that fish oil could be the key to alleviating both conditions.
It's not the oil itself but the omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish that can help to improve mood and behaviour.
It has been well known for some time that fatty acids are essential for the healthy formation of the brain's nerve cell membranes and membrane fluidity. Because nerve cell function depends on proper membrane functioning and membrane fluidity, any changes can have a negative effect on behavior, mood and mental function.
A 1998 report in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that patients with depression had significantly lower levels of omega 3s in their red blood cell membranes.
It seems that omega 3 makes it easier for serotonin - the chemical that carries messages from one brain cell to another - to pass through cell membranes. Increasing the fatty acid levels has a direct effect on increasing serotonin levels and the more serotonin, the better a person's mood and behaviour.
People with bipolar disorder can also benefit from increased omega 3s as their mood swings can be significantly smoothed out. Anyone taking antidepressants for postpartum depression should also consider boosting their intake, as studies show that the effectiveness of this medication can be improved.
To reinforce the connection between a good intake of omega 3s and reduced postpartum depression, people from cultures that consume a lot of these essential fatty acids have significantly lower rates of depression.
Fish or fish oil supplements?
In recent times, most of us have tried to reduce our consumption of fats in the interests of good heart health and our waistlines. But it seems that we may have gone a little too far.
Grass-fed beef and eggs are both good sources of omega 3 fatty acids but we have turned away from these saturated fat foods in favour of polyunsaturated plant fats, such as corn, soybean and sunflower oils.
Although these plant-based oils can help reduce bad saturated fats in our diet, they are low in omega 3s.
The best source of fatty acids is fish oil. This is because it contains the two main fatty acids, DHA and EPA. You can also get omega 3s from plants such as flaxseeds and walnuts but they don't contain both EPA and DHA. Instead, they contain ALA, another type of fatty acid, which your body can convert to EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, the conversion process isn't very efficient and you need about 11 grams of ALA just to get one gram of DHA.
So oily fish is the best source of omega 3s for postpartum depression.
But there is a downside to consuming more oily fish. Often, these fish are farmed or caught in waters that contain high levels of mercury and other heavy metals, as well as PCBs and dioxins. These substances can seriously damage your health over time and so many people turn to fish oil supplements instead.
A good quality supplement will be molecularly distilled to remove any trace of contaminants. It should also be fresh - check the manufacturer's certificate of analysis (COA) on their website to make sure they test their product's oxidation levels. An oxidised product will be full of free radicals, which damage cells and undo all the benefits of taking the oil.
So there's no need to put up with the symptoms of postpartum depression, or the baby blues, when help could be at hand in the form of simple fish oil supplements. If you would like more information about omega 3 and its many benefits, or about the supplements I use daily myself, please visit my website.