Postpartum blues, a range of sad emotions that peak five days after giving birth, is often seen as a precursor for postpartum depression. But a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that dietary supplements, including blueberry extract, may lessen the effect of postpartum blues, and possibly prevent postpartum depression.
Researchers believe that postpartum blues are controlled by hormones, and the changes that occur in them after birth. In the postpartum period, estrogen and progesterone drop severely, which may contribute to depression. Postpartum depression is also coupled with an elevation in the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), which regulates neurotransmitters in the brain.
During the study, scientists gave a group of 20 women a dietary supplement containing L-tyrosine and L-tryptophan–both thought to help balance postpartum MAO-A activity–blueberry juice, and blueberry extract. The levels of tryptophan and tyrosine in breastmilk were not affected by this dietary supplement. The blueberries were added to help the chemicals cross the blood-brain barrier.
A control group of 21 women were not given a supplement, which may mean that the results of the study may be challenged by the placebo effect. But it’s difficult to argue with the results: on the Visual Analog Scale, a commonly-used measure of pain, the group that did not receive the supplement had scores of a thousand times higher than those women that received the supplement. On the Profile of Mood States, the control group showed a significant increase in depressive symptoms, but the women who received the supplement experienced a decrease in the same symptoms. The moods of the women taking the supplement were improved three-fold.
Even though the study did not have a placebo trial, the results speak for themselves. The supplement doesn’t have any negative effects, so researchers plan to have better studies, with bigger sample sizes and placebos. If the chemicals and blueberry juice and extract can indeed decrease depressive symptoms this greatly, there’s no reason to not give women these supplements. What a great scientific advance!