Only a few dietary supplements get tested in the kind of randomized, controlled trials that are used to test prescription drugs. One such study has been performed for omega-3 fatty acids to treat depression during pregnancy. And they work.
Ever since the thalidomide birth defect tragedies of the 1950's, doctors have been reluctant to prescribe drugs to pregnant women. This caution has a bright side; it creates an incentive to do high-quality scientific studies of non-drug options.
Omega-3 fatty acids are just one type of dietary supplement used for mental health support. Others include 5-HTP, tyrosine/phenylalanine, melatonin, St. John's wort, L-theanine, and lithium orotate. What got the omega-3's into the clinical trial?
The developing fetus needs large amounts of these essential fatty acids for development of cell membranes. Thus, researchers speculated that pregnant women who experience major depressive disorder may be suffering from a deficiency. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oils and some vegetable sources, such as flax seeds, but a modern diet can easily have too little for optimum health. Supplements are widely available for those who choose this option.
The study reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry indicates that depression may be caused by a dietary deficiency in some cases. Before we take synthetic drugs to treat any condition, we should first make sure we're getting the nutrients our body needs. That goes double during pregnancy.
by Linda Fugate, Ph.D.
Su KP, Huang SY, Chiu TH, Huang KC, Huang CL, Chang HC, Pariante CM. Omega-3 fatty acids for major depressive disorder during pregnancy: results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Psychiatry. 2008 Apr;69(4):644-51.