We all know that nutrition plays an important role in our physical health, but did you know it is also crucial for our mental health? With the growth in depression rates especially in mothers, I get asked a lot: what can be done nutritionally to combat this?
While 80% of new mothers experience the “baby blues,” they typically go away within a few weeks without treatment, but if your negative feelings continue or intensify, you could have postpartum depression. This mental illness has been reported to affect 1 in 7 new mothers in the year after giving birth, but it can persist even after the first year, or develop into full blown depression. 
In fact, many mothers suffer with depression and/or anxiety beyond what’s considered the postpartum period. Feelings of depression are often exacerbated by the daily stresses and demands of being a mother with little time to devote to self-care and getting the help a mother desperately needs.
Natural support for depression
Depression is a mental illness and often requires medical treatment, but there are also many ways to help with your recovery through nutritional changes. At Mother Nutrient, we provide a range of products, including nutraceutical supplements and superfoods that are known to help with a variety of health issues related to motherhood, including (postpartum) depression and anxiety. Currently, common treatments for depression include talk therapy and pharmaceutical medications, but the following natural supplements have been shown to help with depression and are safe to use while breastfeeding.
1. Saffron extract - Saffron extract is made from the stigma of the saffron crocus flower, which has been traditionally used as a cooking spice and herbal medicine for over 4,000 years. Multiple studies have shown that supplementing with saffron significantly reduced symptoms of postpartum depression. In one double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, participants were given 15 mg of saffron twice a day for 8 weeks. This supplementation led to a 96% remission rate of mild postpartum depression, which was more than twice the rate of the control group . Another trial by Tabeshpour et al. demonstrated that giving participants 30 mg of saffron petal for 6 weeks led to a better antidepressant effect when compared to the placebo control . A meta-analysis that compared saffron supplementation with antidepressants also reported that saffron had a similar antidepressant efficacy without side effects, citing its “serotonergic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuro-endocrine and neuroprotective effects” . Studies have indicated that saffron extract is also an effective treatment to reduce anxiety and has been reported to reduce snacking and increase satiety, which may help those who struggle with emotional eating [5, 6].
2. Omega 3 DHA + EPA - Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in the health of both mothers and babies. Of the different forms of Omega-3s, DHA is known to be extremely important for brain function, accounting for 10 to 15% of the total fatty acids in our brains. Women typically become deficient in omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and the postpartum period because of the high demand on the mother to provide DHA to the growing fetus and infant, and it has been reported to take 6 months for these DHA stores to be replenished .
Several studies examined the relationship between omega-3 levels and depression and found that those with depression had significantly lower levels of EPA and DHA. Conversely, mothers who consumed more omega-3s (through high seafood consumption) had a lower prevalence of postpartum depression . Another 8-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled preliminary trial compared pregnant women with major depressive disorder who took omega-3 fatty acids with women who took placebos. After 6 weeks, women who took omega-3 fatty acids reported lower ratings for depressive symptoms, and higher remission rates compared to the placebo group .
Because of the benefits of taking omega-3s to improve your mood and cognitive function, in addition to the lack of sufficient levels in current Western diets, it is best to take an omega-3 supplement with high levels of DHA + EPA (I recommend 150 to 300 milligrams of DHA and 180 to 300 milligrams of EPA per day) to help support your depression.
3. Probiotics - It’s true, a healthy gut is linked to a healthy mood. Probiotics increase the amount of healthy microbiota in the gut, which positively alters the immune system and anti-inflammatory pathways to help with postpartum mental health issues. Long-term supplementation with probiotics has been shown to decrease sad mood, rumination, negative thoughts, and aggressive thoughts that are associated with depression and anxiety . A more recent study of 423 women in New Zealand observed the effect of giving a probiotic during pregnancy through 6 months postpartum (if breastfeeding) on postnatal mood . Mothers in the probiotic treatment group reported significantly lower scores for both depression and anxiety, as well as half the risk of developing clinically significant anxiety compared to those who took the placebo.
Mother Nutrient offers a Women's Probiotic made up of a high-strength 40 billion CFU blend of 4 probiotic strains that are designed to help improve the gut bacteria and boost your mood. Our newest PRE+PRObiotic is an innovative probiotic that provides comprehensive gut microbiome support through combining prebiotic fibers and key probiotic strains.
4. Vitamin D - Vitamin D has been shown to have profound effects on the brain. Studies have linked low levels of vitamin D in the blood with symptoms of depression (12, 13). In fact, most of the US population is deficient in this key nutrient, so supplementation is important, especially for mothers. While the average prenatal multivitamin offers only 400 IU of vitamin D3, the recommended dose for nursing mothers is 6,400 IU of vitamin D3 in order for sufficient levels to reach their baby.
Mother Nutrient’s liquid Vitamin D3 is combined with MCT (coconut) oil for easy absorption (vitamin D is fat-soluble), and the D3+K2 capsules include vitamin K2 to enhance benefits of vitamin D. Both have the preferred form D3 form and have a high potency of 5,000 IU.
5. Zinc - Zinc is a trace element that plays an important role in over 300 biological processes in our bodies, including cellular function, immune health, and digestive health. Studies have explored the relationship between zinc levels and depression, and many have demonstrated that depressed individuals (and those with high depression severity scores) had reduced serum zinc levels compared to healthy controls (one study found levels to be 1.85 umol/L lower) (14, 15). There is a lot of evidence through numerous randomized controlled trials that zinc supplementation is an effective adjunctive therapy to improve mood for depressed individuals, even in cases of those who resist treatment (16-20). To determine if you have a zinc deficiency, it’s best to have your plasma zinc level tested (below 15 umol/L indicates insufficiency), and have your doctor repeat blood tests regularly to assess improvements in zinc levels.
It’s okay to ask for help.
If you think you have depression or anxiety, it’s important to seek the help that you need. We understand the challenges of caring for yourself when you have a baby and other children who need you, but it becomes even more important that you take care of yourself so that you have the ability to care for others and form a positive bond with your child. But you don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) struggle alone, because you are not alone. Talk to a family member, a friend, be honest with your doctor, and consult with a therapist.
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Content found on this website is not considered medical advice. Please consult with a physician before making any medical or lifestyle changes.
1. Postpartum Depression Facts [Internet]. National Institute of Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; [cited 2019May16]. Available from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml
2. Tabeshpour J, Sobhani F, Sadjadi SA, Hosseinzadeh H, Mohajeri SA, Rajabi O, et al. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of saffron stigma (Crocus sativus L.) in mothers suffering from mild-to-moderate postpartum depression. Phytomedicine. 2017;36:145–52.
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