One in every seven women will suffer from postpartum depression. Mental health groups warn that even women who are not diagnosed with the condition may still experience minor mood swings known as the “baby blues.” Current studies point to the physiological links between hormones and the onset of certain mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, which may be linked to post-birth nutritional deficiencies.
A new study suggests that eating blueberries, or taking blueberry supplements, immediately and consistently after birth can significantly reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression or even the less severe post-natal blues. Amino acids found in the berry have been studied to manage mood and compensate for hormonal changes.
A Life Born, A Mood Changed
Pregnancy signifies dramatic shifts in hormone production. These bodily changes are necessary for the mother to carry her child and for the baby to gestate properly. Hormone fluctuations are also necessary to induce labor and promote growth. Nevertheless, these extreme shifts imply an increased risk for depression and anxiety.
Mental health practitioners have noted that mothers typically experience a mild form of depression within the first few weeks after birth. These women do not notice their low mood, however, as it is experienced gradually. For the most part, cases of post-natal blues are left undiagnosed and untreated. There are, however, those who undergo severe drops in mood. Those with severe cases are unable to fully recover from the emotional stress of giving birth. It is a vicious cycle: Too often mothers are sleep-deprived, which inhibits their ability to recover. The strain in their recovery exacerbates their sleep patterns.
A Blue Fruit to Fight the Blues
Researchers from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada, studied 41 women who had recently given birth. These women were grouped accordingly, with one group asked to take supplements enriched with tryptophan and tyrosine, amino acids found in blueberries (and what gives the berry its distinctive color). It was found that women who regularly took the supplements experienced no mood swings five days after giving birth — usually the time when post-natal blues reach their peak. These results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This is not the first time blueberries have been lauded for their mood-stabilizing properties. The fruit has been associated with improved treatment for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. Blueberries have also been linked with improved cognitive function among the elderly.
Scientists attribute these astounding results to blueberries’ ability to increase blood flow to the brain. Mental illness is often caused by a lack of a certain compound. For example, depression — as the name suggests — occurs when the brain is unable to produce the “feel-good” hormones known as serotonin. The brain thus becomes “depressed,” with patients unable to function properly. It must be noted that there is a complex interaction between hormones and neural connections. The hormones that lead to depression can also potentially affect how the brain responds to environmental stimuli.
Compounds found in the blueberry keep hormone fluctuations from causing too much damage to brain passageways. By allowing more blood to flow between the brain and the body, more oxygen is introduced to the system. This keeps the brain healthy and protects it from mental disorders — particularly those caused by hormone production.
Authors of the study say that more research is necessary to fully understand and determine the exact mechanics involved between blueberry intake and mood stabilization. Still, initial results are optimistic and the already renowned superfood is gaining more traction.