West Queen West CAMH Wednesday Story: Dietary kit reduces baby blues, a precursor to postpartum depression

by Rob Sysak, August 22, 2017

Over the past decade, CAMH’s Dr. Jeffrey Meyer has studied brain imaging with the goal of discovering the causes of depression. His research led to the development of a natural and effective dietary supplement that reduces baby blues, a precursor to postpartum depression.

This is significant; 13% of new moms experience postpartum depression, often with considerable and lasting impacts on their lives and relationships. Sometimes these feelings can be heightened if the birth was traumatic and there were complications that resulted in injury to the baby. This can be incredibly hard for new parents to go through, especially the mother. That is why there are professionals out there to help them in their time of need, from specialized therapists to birth injury lawyers (people can click here to learn more), so they are supported on all fronts.

The research: a treatment for the baby blues

“Developing successful nutrition-based treatments, based on neurobiology, is rare in psychiatry,” says Dr. Meyer, who holds a Canada Research Chair in the Neurochemistry of Major Depression. “We believe our approach also represents a promising new avenue for creating other new dietary supplements for medicinal use.”

The nutritional kit consists of three supplements. They were carefully selected to compensate for a surge in the brain protein MAO-A, which occurs in the early postpartum phase, and which also resembles a brain change that persists for longer periods in clinical depression. Both findings were discovered in previous brain imaging studies by Dr. Meyer’s group.

MAO-A breaks down three brain chemicals that help maintain mood: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. When these chemicals are depleted, it can lead to feelings of sadness. MAO-A levels peak five days after giving birth, the same time when postpartum blues are most pronounced.

The kit includes tryptophan and tyrosine, which compensate for the loss of the three mood-regulating chemicals, as well as a blueberry extract with blueberry juice for anti-oxidant effects. Dr. Meyer’s team had also tested and confirmed that the tryptophan and tyrosine supplements, given in higher amounts than people would normally get in their diet, did not affect the overall concentrations in breast milk.

Click here to prevent more women and their families from experiencing mental illness, like post-partum depression.

The current study, administered by research fellow Dr. Yekta Dowlati, included 21 women who received the supplements and a comparison group of 20 mothers who did not. It was an open-label study, meaning the women knew they were receiving nutritional supplements. The supplements were taken over three days, starting on the third day after giving birth.

On day five after giving birth – when the baby blues peak – the women underwent tests to assess the kit’s effect on mood. The testing included sad mood induction, which measured the ability to be resilient against sad events. The women read and reflected on statements with sentiments that expressed pessimism, dissatisfaction and lethargy, and then listened to a sad piece of classical music. Before and after this test, researchers measured depressive symptoms.

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The results were dramatic. Women who were not taking the supplements had a significant increase in depression scores. In contrast, women taking the dietary supplements did not experience any depressed mood.

“We believe this is the first study to show such a strong, beneficial effect of an intervention in reducing the baby blues at a time when postpartum sadness peaks,” says Dr. Meyer. “Postpartum blues are common and usually resolves 10 days after giving birth, but when they are intense, the risk of postpartum depression increases four-fold.”

The results support further research to replicate the effects in a larger sample in a randomized, controlled trial, and further assess the kit’s ability to reduce both the postpartum blues as well as clinically diagnosed postpartum depression.

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Since severe postpartum blues significantly heighten the risk of postpartum depression, this supplement kit is anticipated to be an integral part of a dietary supplement regimen that health-care providers could one day recommend widely to prevent postpartum depression, the researchers say.

The journey from donations to discovery.

Thanks to the support of donors like you, Dr. Meyer and a team of researchers translated research that began over a decade ago into an important discovery. The discovery made headlines around the world.

By uncovering the effect of this enzyme in early post-partum, one of the highest risk points for depression, Dr. Meyer developed a natural treatment that reduces new moms’ risk for the baby blues and, ultimately, post-partum depression.

Help put this breakthrough to work sooner for those who need it most and prevent more women and their families from experiencing mental illness, like post-partum depression.

Thank you. Your commitment to fighting mental illness is inspiring.

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