Help Prevent Postpartum Depression with Omega-3s?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Omega-3 Deficiency, Postpartum Depression

What Does Science Say About Depression During & After Pregnancy?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

prevent postpartum depressionCan you help prevent postpartum depression by using omega-3s?  Pregnancy and breastfeeding should be a wonderful time in any woman’s life, but sometimes the dark days of depression take hold. Postpartum depression used to be taboo. It was never talked about unless a mother did something terrible enough to make it into the headlines. Nowadays we realize that it is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is fairly common.

The CDC estimates that 11-20% of women will suffer some degree of depression after childbirth. A similar percentage of women will experience prenatal depression (depression during pregnancy). To put these numbers into perspective, 20% of women can expect to suffer depression during their lifetime.

Of course, that doesn’t make prenatal or postnatal (postpartum) depression any easier to understand for any woman who has suffered from it. How could such a joyous time in their lives lead to depression?

The causes of prenatal and postnatal depression are multifactorial. Some, such as genetic predisposition and hormonal imbalances, may be beyond a woman’s control. Others may require medical intervention.

However, many women ask: “Is there something natural, some change in diet and lifestyle, I could undertake that might help with the depression?” This week we will look at a study suggesting that omega-3s might help with prenatal and postnatal depression.

 

Can Omega-3s Help With Prevent Postpartum Depression?

can omega3 prevent postpartum depressionThere are several reasons for suspecting that omega-3s might help with both prenatal and postnatal (postpartum) depression.

  • Many studies have suggested that omega-3 deficiency is implicated in depression.
  • A recent study DHA During Pregnancy  reported that pregnant women in the US are only getting around 1/5 the recommended amount of omega-3s from their diet.
  • During the second and third trimester, the fetus requires tremendous amounts of omega-3s, particularly DHA, to support its developing brain. This could be another instance of the fetus robbing an important nutrient from the mother’s body.

However, clinical studies to date have been inconclusive. Some have shown a clear correlation between omega-3 deficiency and pre/postnatal depressions. Others have not.

The authors of this study (Lin et al, Biological Psychiatry, doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.02.1182 ) did a meta-analysis of all studies measuring both omega-3 status and pre/postnatal depression. They included 12 studies with a total of 7739 women in their analysis. Of the women in the study 1094 (16.6%) suffered with prenatal and/or postnatal depression.

Their findings were:

  • Levels of total omega-3s and DHA were significantly lower in the women with prenatal and/or postnatal depression.
  • The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was higher in the women with prenatal and/or postnatal depression.

 

What Does This Study Mean To You?

healthy livingThis study showed an association between omega-3 deficiency and depression during the prenatal and postnatal periods. It suggests, but does not prove, that omega-3 deficiency predisposes to pre/postnatal depression.  So, taking the recommended amounts of omega-3s may help prevent postpartum depression.

If this were the only reason to suggest adding extra omega-3s to your diet during pregnancy and lactation, it might not be sufficient to spur you to action. However, recent studies suggest that increasing your omega-3 intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding is also important for your child’s brain development. Thus, there are at least two important reasons to make sure your omega-3 intake is optimal during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

It is important to recognize that increasing your omega-3 intake may not be sufficient to cure pre- and postnatal depression by itself. It is probably best as part of a holistic approach. You should also:

  • Make sure you are getting adequate B vitamins (especially folic acid, B6 and B12). Clinical studies have also linked deficiencies of these nutrients with depression.
  • Make sure your protein intake is sufficient and limit sugars and simple carbohydrates. This helps stabilize blood sugar swings that can affect your mood.
  • Keep caffeine to a minimum and avoid alcohol.
  • Employ stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, or conversations with friends.

Of course, there is nothing radical about any of these recommendations. These are the same recommendations every pregnant mother is being given for the health of their baby. For example, the importance of folic acid has been recognized for decades. The importance of omega-3s for your child’s brain development has received increasing recognition in recent years.

Finally, if natural approaches don’t work, consult your physician.

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent meta-analysis has shown an association between omega-3 deficiency and both prenatal and postnatal depression.
  • That is significant in light of a recent study showing that pregnant women in the US are getting only 1/5 the recommended amount of omega-3s from their diet.
  • This study showed an association between omega-3 deficiency and depression during the prenatal and postnatal periods. It suggests, but does not prove, that omega-3 deficiency predisposes to pre/postnatal depression.
  • In addition, recent studies suggest that increasing your omega-3 intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding is also important for your child’s brain development. Thus, there is more than one reason to make sure your omega-3 intake is optimal during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • Increasing your omega-3 intake may not cure pre/postnatal depression by itself. It is probably best as part of a holistic approach. You should also:
    • Make sure you are getting adequate B vitamins (especially folic acid, B6 and B12).
    • Make sure your protein intake is sufficient and limit sugars and simple carbohydrates.
    • Keep caffeine to a minimum and avoid alcohol.
    • Employ stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, or conversations with friends.
  • There are many other things that can contribute to depression. If natural approaches don’t work, you should consult your physician.
  • For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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