Researchers develop nutrition-based treatment to combat 'baby blues'

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Supplements containing blueberries were found to reduce vulnerability to sadness after giving birth

Mild, short-term “baby blues” are considered normal in the first week or two after giving birth. In fact, it is thought that around 75% of newly minted moms experience feelings of anxiety and moodiness after childbirth.

However, women who suffer from severe postpartum blues are the most likely to go on to have full-blown postnatal depression. Now, researchers say a special supplementation regimen may help banish temporary baby blues and lower the risk of longer-lasting postpartum depression.

In a study, women who took a combination of fruit-based supplements containing amino acids and antioxidants experienced no drop in their mood on day five after giving birth, when postpartum blues peak. Those who didn’t take the supplements had showed a “robust” increase in their depression test scores.

Wards off temporary sadness

The supplements -- which contain blueberry juice with blueberry extract (antioxidants) and the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine -- were designed to “address specific changes that temporarily occur in the brain,” said Dr. Jeffrey Meyer, co-author of the study.

Feelings of sadness in the earliest days of motherhood are thought to arise from a surge in levels of a brain protein called monoamine oxidase (MAO-A), the researchers explained. MAO-A is the brain protein responsible for breaking down mood-related brain chemicals, including the 'feel-good hormones' serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

“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,” Meyer said in a statement.

Further research needed

The key ingredients in the supplements were not shown to increase levels of tryptophan or tyrosine in breast milk. But while the initial trial may have produced promising results, Meyer stressed that “people should wait until the regimen is approved for general use rather than trying it themselves.”

Meyer and his colleagues at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) say the study’s results could have been thrown off by a “placebo” effect. 

The study of 41 women was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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