Nutritional Interventions Help Combat Depression, Especially for Pregnant Women, Study Suggests

Nutritional interventions may be a cost-effective means of preventing and treating depression by reducing the need for psychotropic drugs.

A recently published review by Kaitlyn Rechenberg, a joint-degree candidate in the schools of public health and nursing, examines the biological basis of perinatal depression and the potential benefits of non-pharmacological interventions. Her review included more than 75 journal articles.

Given the high cost of the pharmacological interventions, a lack of availability in many countries and potentially harmful or unpleasant side effects, especially for pregnant women and their babies, nutritional interventions may be a viable alternative in some cases, she said.

“The World Health Organization is calling for cost effective interventions in the developing world,” said Rechenberg. “Nutritional supplements can have a positive effect.”

Treatments that include omega-3 fatty acids, folate and vitamins B6 and B12 may prevent and mitigate symptoms, taken alone or in addition to medication, Rechenberg said. Nutritionally, women are often deficient by the end of their pregnancy, contributing to further depression and the likelihood that their infant may have an epigenetic tendency toward depression as he or she matures.

While drugs can be effective in fighting depression, they can also pose a threat to babies. Possible risks include fetal malformation, pulmonary hypertension of the newborn and miscarriage. Nutritional interventions for mild depression would mitigate these risks.

“Kaitlyn’s work provides an extensive analysis of the literature on nutritional interventions and depression, highlighting the effectiveness of such interventions in particular settings, and the benefits of using less expensive alternatives when resources are limited,” said Debbie Humphries, PhD, MPH, a clinical instructor at the Yale School of Public Health and Rechenberg’s adviser for this project.

Rechenberg was completing a master’s in ethics at Yale when she began the research as part of her focus on bioethics. The paper was published in the June issue of the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of mental disability worldwide. While common, mental illnesses are hard to treat and doctors rely on a few catchall drugs, says Rechenberg.

“Person to person, mental health is reported differently, experienced differently and lived differently,” she says. “There may be other things we can do other than or in addition to standard medications.”

This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on September 17, 2013.