The so-called omega-3 fats (found plentifully in ‘oily’ fish such as sardines, salmon and trout) have been said to have the potential to enhance health in a number of areas, including mental health. There is a fair body of evidence now that suggests that omega-3 fats are important in the functioning of the brain, including the maintenance of mood. Some of you may have noticed that omega-3 fats have been touted in pregnancy too, specifically because they are believed to help normal brain and visual function in the developing foetus.
Some pregnant women may supplement with omega-3 fats for this reason, though I suppose it occurs that these women may get some benefits all their own in terms of the mental function. The idea that omega-3 fats may have an anti-depressant effect in pregnant women was the focus of a study published on-line recently in the Journal of Clinical Psychiartry .
Here, 36 pregnant women were randomly assigned to receive either 3.4 g of omega-3 fats per day or placebo for a period of 8 weeks, though only 24 women completed the study. The women were assessed for depressive symptoms at 6 and 8 weeks after treatment was commenced. At both these points, women taking the omega-3 fats had lower scores of standardised ratings of depression. The response rate in these women was 62 per cent (compared to 27 per cent taking placebo). At the study’s conclusion, women taking the omega-3 fats had lower scores in an assessment of post-natal depression too.
This study was small, and ideally (as the authors point out), larger scale studies need to be done. Nevertheless, the results of this study are promising I think, and suggest that omega-3-based therapy may be useful for combating depression during and after pregnancy.
Su KP, et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Major Depressive Disorder During Pregnancy: Results From a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Clin Psychiatry, 2008 Mar 18 [Epub ahead of print].