Postpartum blues are a widespread phenomenon experienced by many new mothers, generally arising five days after childbirth. However, they can become more severe and lead to clinically diagnosed postpartum depression, one of the most common complications of child-bearing, affecting 13% of new mothers.
To counteract the mood-related effects of chemical changes in the brain, scientists developed a "kit" of three nutritional supplements including tryptophan (2g), tyrosine (10g) and blueberry extract with blueberry juice. This was given to new mothers from the third day after giving birth for a period of three days.
"Developing successful nutrition-based treatments, based on neurobiology, is rare in psychiatry," said the study's lead author Dr. Jeffrey Meyer from Toronto's Center for Addiction and Mental Health.
The scientists found that women who took the nutritional cocktail comprising two amino acids and blueberry juice did not experience any depression symptoms, compared to mothers who didn't take the supplements. Those who didn't take the nutritional kit experienced a significant increase in depression symptoms.
The kit's components were specially selected to compensate for a surge in the brain protein MAO-A, which arises in the early postpartum phase, inhibiting the action of three neurotransmitters that stabilize mood: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. When levels of these three chemicals are depleted, feelings of sadness can arise.
Tryptophan is a precursor amino acid for the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin and is naturally found in turkey, cod, salami, parmesan, parsley, pumpkin seeds, soy, milk and cheese.
L-Tyrosine is another amino acid which has antioxidant properties that fight depression or anxiety and is related to dopamine levels. It is found in almonds, avocado, banana, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hard cheeses and soy. Blueberry extract, rich in polyphenols, has the most powerful antioxidant properties of all fruits. Several studies have highlighted its effectiveness in combating declining cognitive function.
In conclusion, the researchers suggest that, after further trials, this kind of supplement kit could one day be offered to new mothers by healthcare providers as a means of preventing post-partum depression.
Note that the use of tryptophan and tyrosine supplements did not affect the overall concentrations in breast milk.
The study is published in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS) and is available