Pilot trial of fish oil for post-partum depression

TUCSON, ARIZONA. Post-partum depression (PPD) affects about 10-15% of mothers in the USA, usually within the first month following delivery. Children of affected mothers may experience impaired attachment and PPD may adversely affect their behavioral and cognitive development. Several studies have shown that mothers with PPD tend to be deficient in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Other studies have found that women with an adequate intake of DHA (from seafood or supplements) tend to be less likely to develop PPD. Based on these observations researchers at the University of Arizona Medical School decided to evaluate if fish oil supplementation would diminish depression in women diagnosed with PPD.

Their 8-week pilot study involved 16 women with PPD. The extent of depression was evaluated using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD). The EPDS scores ranged from 15.3 to 19.0 at the start of the study (a score equal to or greater than 9.0 indicates depression). The HRSD scores ranged from 18 to 20.3 with a score equal to or greater than 15 signifying depression.

The study participants were randomized to receive placebo capsules (corn oil + 1% fish oil) or 0.5, 1.4 or 2.8 grams/day of a fish oil having an EPA:DHA ratio of 1.5:1 (EPAX 5500, Pronova, Lysker, Norway) for 8 weeks. The participants were followed up and checked for depression scores at weeks 1, 2, 4, 6, and 8. At week 8 the average EPDS score had decreased to 9.3 (a 51.5% reduction) and the HRSD score had fallen by 48.8% to an average of 10 in the fish oil groups. Improvement was most noticeable in the group receiving 1.4 grams/day of EPA + DHA and no advantage was seen by taking 2.8 grams/day. However, just 0.5 gram/day also was successful in reducing both EPDS scores and HRSD scores to normal (non-depressed) levels. The researchers conclude that fish oil supplementation in women with PPD is well tolerated and effective in reducing symptoms of depression.
Freeman, MP, et al. Randomized dose-ranging pilot trial of omega-3 fatty acids for postpartum depression. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, Vol. 113, January 2006, pp. 31-35

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