Omega-3s vs. Depression

 By: David Juan, MD
Two big types of depression come in the forms of postpartum and bipolar. Let's take a peek and see what the situation is regarding omega-3 fatty acid and these mood disorders.

Postpartum Depression

This is of course the depression experienced by women who recently gave birth. New mothers are prone to this, caused by wildly fluctuating hormonal levels.

The postpartum rate varies massively across the world. For instance, we have a nearly 50-fold difference from 24.5% in South Africa to 0.5% in Singapore. Overall, the global figure is 12.4% of new mothers. In the third trimester, the fetus requires an average of 67 milligrams a day of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which may exceed the daily intake of some pregnant women. Therefore, preterm babies are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of insufficient DHA in terms of normal development of the brain and vision.

In a population study involving 22 countries and 14,532 individuals, greater seafood consumption predicted a lower rate of postpartum depression. However, in a small study from New Zealand involving 85 pregnant women, no association between postpartum depression and fish intake could be found. There is an urgent need to conduct well- designed clinical studies to address the questions: do omega 3 fatty acids supplements during pregnancy prevent postpartum depression?

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness with recurrent episodes of mania and depression. It is divided into bipolar I and II. Patients with bipolar I have severe episodes of mood swings from mania to depression; whereas those with bipolar II have a milder form of mood swings.

In a large population study involving 10 countries, greater consumption of seafood was associated with a lower rate of bipolar disorders, especially the milder bipolar II.

The lifetime prevalence rates (number of cases per 100,000 people) of bipolar disorders from these countries were as follows: Taiwan (0.4); Korea (0.5); Canada (1.1); New Zealand (2.4); Israel (2.6); U.S. (3.0); Italy (3.4); Switzerland (5.1); and Hungary (5.5).

These investigators found that there seems to be an increased likelihood for the development of bipolar disorder if you don't eat a certain amount of seafood. Overall, it boils down to 300 grams of seafood per person per day.

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