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Scientists Identify Postpartum Treatment Methods

Amazing news!  New research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry has lead scientists to believe they may soon be able to prevent postpartum depression through the use of dietary supplements.  This could help the 13 percent of all new mothers, according to Science Daily, who suffer from clinical-level postpartum depression.

It has long been known that estrogen levels drop 100-1000 fold in the first three to four days postpartum, but researchers Julia Sacher from the MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and her colleague Jeffrey H. Meyer from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, have determined that “proportional to this estrogen-loss, levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) increase dramatically throughout the female brain.”  High levels of MAO-A break down the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are all mood-lifters.

Researchers looked at the brain chemicals of women who had just given birth versus a control group of women who had not been pregnant recently and found that “levels of MAO-A were, on average, 43 percent higher in women who had just had a baby.  The MAO-A increase could be shown in all brain regions investigated, with MAO-A levels being highest on day five postpartum.”

Since mild depression in the first five days postpartum is a pre-cursor to clinical postpartum depression, scientists believe “preventing depressive symptoms in the immediate postpartum period may have powerful impact for prophylaxis of postpartum depression.”  They suggest lowering “elevated levels of MAO-A with selected antagonist drugs, or to increase the concentration of monoamine neurotransmitters that can elevate mood.”  Ingesting the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine might be the answer, as the body can convert them into serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.  Until pharmaceutical companies develop a pill containing the amino acids, Wikipedia offers a list of foods high in tryptophan.  Yes, turkey is on the list, but egg whites are at the top.  Maybe that’s why they feed them to you in the hospital?

Brain chemistry is likely not the only factor in postpartum depression, however.  It was announced in February that a staggering 50% of low-income urban mothers suffer from postpartum depression.  In addition to eradicating negative environmental factors, balancing the brain chemistry of new moms sounds like a promising step in the treatment of this crippling condition.

Photo: Tony Armstrong Photos

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