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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Should We Use Supplements For Cardiovascular Health?

Posted July 10, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Are You Just Wasting Your Money On Supplements?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

supplements for cardiovascular health wast moneyYou’ve seen the headlines. “Recent Study Finds Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.”  You are being told that supplements are of no benefit to you. They are a waste of money. You should follow a healthy diet instead. Is all of this true?

If I were like most bloggers, I would give you a simple yes or no answer that would be only partially correct. Instead, I am going to put the study behind these headlines into perspective. I am going to give you a deeper understanding of supplementation, so you can make better choices for your health.

 Should we use supplements for cardiovascular health?

In today’s article I will give you a brief overview of the subject. Here are the topics I will cover today:

  • Is this fake news?
  • Did the study ask the right questions?
  • Is this a question of “Garbage In – Garbage Out?
  • Reducing Heart Disease Risk. What you need to know.

All these topics are covered in much more detail (with references) in my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths”, which will be published this fall.

 

How Was This Study Done?

supplements for cardiovascular healthThis study (D.J.A. Jenkins et al, Journal of the American College Of Cardiology, 71: 2540-2584, 2018 ) was a meta-analysis. Simply put, that means the authors combined the results of many previous studies into a single database to increase the statistical power of their conclusions. This study included 127 randomized control trials published between 2012 and December 2017. These were all studies that included supplementation and looked at cardiovascular end points, cancer end points or overall mortality.

Before looking at the results, it is instructive to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the study. Rather than giving you my interpretation, let me summarize what the authors said about strengths and weaknesses of their own study.

The strengths are obvious. Randomized control trials are considered the gold standard of evidence-based medicine, but they have their weaknesses. Here is what the authors said about the limitations of their study:

  • “Randomized control trials are of shorter duration, whereas longer duration studies might be required to fully capture chronic disease risk.”
  • “Dose-response data were not usually available [from the randomized control studies included in their analysis]. However, larger studies would allow the effect of dose to be assessed.”

There are some other limitations of this study, which I will point out below.

Is This Fake News?

supplements for cardiovascular health fake newsWhen I talk about “fake news” I am referring to the headlines, not to the study behind the headlines. The headlines were definitive: “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.” However, when you read the study the reality is quite different:

  • In contrast to the negative headlines, the study reported:
    • Folic acid supplementation decreased stroke risk by 20% and overall heart disease risk by 17%.
    • B complex supplements containing folic acid, B6, and B12 decreased stroke risk by 10%.
    • That’s a big deal, but somehow the headlines forgot to mention it.
  • The supplements that had no significant effect on heart disease risk (multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C) were ones that would not be expected to lower heart disease risk. There was little evidence from previous studies of decreased risk. Furthermore, there is no plausible mechanism for supposing they might decrease heart disease risk.
  • The study did not include vitamin E or omega-3 supplements, which are the ones most likely to prove effective in decreasing heart disease risk when the studies are done properly (see below).

Did The Study Ask The Right Question?

Most of the studies included in this meta-analysis were asking whether a supplement decreased heart disease risk or mortality for everyone. Simply put, the studies started with a group of generally healthy Americans and asked whether supplementation had a significant effect on disease risk for everyone in that population.

That is the wrong question. We should not expect supplementation to benefit everyone equally. Instead, we should be asking who is most likely to benefit from supplementation and design our clinical studies to test whether those people benefit from supplementation.

supplements for cardiovascular health diagramI have created the graphic on the right as a guide to help answer the question of “Who is most likely to benefit from supplementation?”. Let me summarize each of the points using folic acid as the example.

 

Poor Diet: It only makes sense that those people who are deficient in folate from foods are the most likely to benefit from folic acid supplementation. Think about it for a minute. Would you really expect people who are already getting plenty of folate from their diet to obtain additional benefits from folic acid supplementation?

The NIH estimates that around 20% of US women of childbearing age are deficient in folic acid. For other segments of our population, dietary folate insufficiency ranges from 5-10%. Yet, most studies of folic acid supplementation lump everyone together – even though 80-95% of the US population is already getting enough folate through foods, food fortification, and supplementation. It is no wonder most studies fail to find a beneficial effect of folic acid supplementation.

The authors of the meta-analysis I discussed above said that the beneficial effects of folic acid they saw might have been influenced by a very large Chinese study, because a much higher percentage of Chinese are deficient in folic acid. They went on to say that the Chinese study needed to be repeated in this country.

In fact, the US study has already been done. A large study called “The Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE)” study reported that folic acid supplementation did not reduce heart disease risk in the whole population. However, when the study focused on the subgroup of subjects who were folate-deficient at the beginning of the study, folic acid supplementation significantly decreased their risk of heart attack and cardiovascular death.  This would seem to suggest using supplements for cardiovascular health is a good idea.

Increased Need: There are many factors that increase the need for certain nutrients. However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s only focus on medications. Medications that interfere with folic acid metabolism include anticonvulsants, metformin (used to treat diabetes), methotrexate and sulfasalazine (used to treat severe inflammation), birth control pills, and some diuretics. Use of these medications is not a concern when the diet is adequate. However, when you combine medication use with a folate-deficient diet, health risks are increased and supplementation with folic acid is more likely to be beneficial.

Genetic Predisposition: The best known genetic defect affecting folic acid metabolism is MTHFR. MTHFR deficiency does not mean you have a specific need for methylfolate. However, it does increase your need for folic acid. Again, this is not a concern when the diet is adequate. However, when you combine MTHFR deficiency with a folate-deficient diet, health risks are increased and supplementation with folic acid is more likely to be beneficial. I cover this topic in great detail in my upcoming book, “Slaying The Supplement Myths”. In the meantime, you might wish to view my video, “The Truth About Methyl Folate.”

Diseases: An underlying disease or predisposition to disease often increases the need for one or more nutrients that help reduce disease risk. The best examples of this are two major studies on the effect of vitamin E on heart disease risk in women. Both studies found no effect of vitamin E on heart disease risk in the whole population. However, one study reported that vitamin E reduced heart disease risk in the subgroup of women who were post-menopausal (when the risk of heart disease skyrockets). The other study found that vitamin E reduced heart attack risk in the subgroup of women who had pre-existing heart disease at the beginning of the study.

Finally, if you look at the diagram closely, you will notice a red circle in the middle. When two or three of these factors overlap, that is the “sweet spot” where supplementation is almost certain to make a difference and it may be a good idea to use supplements for cardiovascular health.

Is This A Question Of “Garbage In, Garbage Out”?

supplements for cardiovascular health garbage in outUnfortunately, most clinical studies focus on the “Does everyone benefit from supplementation question?” rather than the “Who benefits from supplementation?” question.

In addition, most clinical studies of supplementation are based on the drug model. They are studying supplementation with a single vitamin or mineral, as if it were a drug. That’s unfortunate, because vitamins and minerals work together synergistically. What we need are more studies of holistic supplementation approaches.

Until these two things change, most supplement studies are doomed to failure. They are doomed to give negative results. In addition, meta-analyses based on these faulty supplement studies will fall victim to what computer programmers refer to as “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. If the data going into the analysis is faulty, the data coming out of the study will be equally faulty. It won’t be worth the paper it is written on. If you are looking for personal guidance on supplementation, this study falls into that category.

 

Should We Use Supplements For Cardiovascular Health?

 

If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for everyone, this meta-analysis is clear. Folic acid may decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. A B complex supplement may decrease the risk of stroke. All the other supplements they included in their analysis did not decrease heart disease risk, but the analysis did not include vitamin E and/or omega-3s.

However, if you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for you, this study provides no guidance. It did not ask the right questions.

I would be remiss, however, if I failed to point out that we know healthy diets can decrease heart disease risk. In the words of the authors: “The recent science-based report of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, also concerned with [heart disease] risk reduction, recommended 3 dietary patterns: 1) a healthy American diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and meat, but high in fruits and vegetables; 2) a Mediterranean diet; and 3) a vegetarian diet. These diets, with their accompanying recommendations, continue the move towards more plant-based diets…” I cover the effect of diet on heart disease risk in detail in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths”.

 

The Bottom Line

 

You have probably seen the recent headlines proclaiming: “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.” The study behind the headlines was a meta-analysis of 127 randomized control trials looking at the effect of supplementation on heart disease risk and mortality.

  • The headlines qualify as “fake news” because:
    • The study found that folic acid decreased stroke and heart disease risk, and B vitamins decreased stroke risk. Somehow the headlines forgot to mention that.
    • The study found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C had no effect on heart disease risk. These are nutrients that were unlikely to decrease heart disease risk to begin with.
    • The study did not include vitamin E and omega-3s. These are nutrients that are likely to decrease heart disease risk when the studies are done properly.
  • The authors of the study stated that a major weakness of their study was that that randomized control studies included in their analysis were short term, whereas longer duration studies might be required to fully capture chronic disease risk.
  • The study behind the headlines is of little use for you as an individual because it asked the wrong question.
  • Most clinical studies focus on the “Does everyone benefit from supplementation question?” That is the wrong question. Instead we need more clinical studies focused on the “Who benefits from supplementation?” question. I discuss that question in more detail in the article above.
  • In addition, most clinical studies of supplementation are based on the drug model. They are studying supplementation with a single vitamin or mineral, as if it were a drug. That’s unfortunate, because vitamins and minerals work together synergistically. What we need are more studies of holistic supplementation approaches.
  • Until these two things change, most supplement studies are doomed to failure. They are doomed to give negative results. In addition, meta-analyses based on these faulty supplement studies will fall victim to what computer programmers refer to as “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. If the data going into the analysis is faulty, the data coming out of the study will be equally faulty. It won’t be worth the paper it is written on. If you are looking for personal guidance on supplementation, this study falls into that category.
  • If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for everyone, this study is clear. Folic acid may decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. A B-complex supplement may decrease the risk of stroke. All the other supplements they included in their analysis did not decrease heart disease risk, but they did not include vitamin E and/or omega-3s in their analysis.
  • If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for you, this study provides no guidance. It did not ask the right questions.
  • However, we do know that healthy, plant-based diets can decrease heart disease risk. I cover heart healthy diets in detail in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths.”

 

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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