Fish may Fight Depression in Pregnant Women

Sep 19, 2004 01:21 PM EDT

A recent study suggests that eating at least two servings of fish per week can lower the risk of pre- or postpartum depression in women.

The study, released at the 156th annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, proposes that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and herring, play a vital role in fighting depression.

Rate of depression was half

An analysis of almost 12,000 pregnant British women indicated that the more fish and seafood consumed during the third trimester, the less likely signs of major depression were to appear before or after the birth. The study found the rate of depression in women with the highest intakes (about two or three servings per week) was only about half that of women with the lowest.

Due to mercury contamination, pregnant women should limit fish intake to an average of 12 ounces per week, an amount that corresponds to approximately two servings. Salmon, catfish, scallops and tilapia tend to have less mercury than other fish. Also, mercury-free fish-oil supplements are available. Scientists warn against consuming shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish due to high levels of mercury.

Omega-3s reduce depression

It is believed that omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of depression because they are key building blocks of the brain. Low levels of dietary omega-3 are associated with low levels of the neurochemical serotonin. Low serotonin levels are known to produce depression.

About 10% of pregnant women develop severe, debilitating depression, and the figure jumps to 13% to 15% in first-time mothers. Pregnant women could be particularly vulnerable to low levels of omega-3 fatty acids because the developing fetus draws on supplies stored in the mother's body.