Food and Behaviour Research

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Role of omega-3 Fatty acids for prevention or treatment of perinatal depression

Borja-Hart NL, Marino J. (2010) Pharmacotherapy 30(2) 210-6 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


Perinatal depression is a complex mental health disorder that can manifest during pregnancy or after childbirth. Women with perinatal depression may not receive proper medical treatment because of concerns over teratogenic effects related to drug therapy. Evidence suggests that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are correlated with depressive symptoms during pregnancy and after delivery. Omega-3 fatty acids may produce antidepressant effects due to their role in serotonin functioning.

A literature search identified seven clinical trials of omega-3 fatty acids for the prevention or treatment of perinatal depression. Depression rating scale scores used in the studies improved, but results were statistically significant in only three trials. Four studies were randomized and placebo controlled, and three were open label. One study evaluating the prevention of postpartum depression in women with a history of depression was discontinued early due to relapse of depressive symptoms.

In the trials we evaluated, the most common adverse effects were foul breath and/or unpleasant taste, and gastrointestinal complaints; no serious adverse events were reported. The seven studies were limited by small sample sizes and variable dosing and study durations. In the studies that demonstrated statistical significance, improvement in depression rating scale scores for omega-3 fatty acids was comparable to placebo. Overall, results have been inconclusive, but further investigation of omega-3 fatty acids is warranted because they did improve depression scores and appeared to be safe during pregnancy.