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Depression Research and Treatment
Volume 2011, Article ID 467349, 16 pages
Review Article

N-3 (Omega-3) Fatty Acids in Postpartum Depression: Implications for Prevention and Treatment

Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutics, Kansas Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center, The University of Kansas Medical Center, MS-1018, 3901 Rainbow Boulevard., Kansas City, KS 66160, USA

Received 16 August 2010; Accepted 21 September 2010

Academic Editor: Alessandro Serretti

Copyright © 2011 Beth Levant. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


A growing body of clinical and epidemiological evidence suggests that low dietary intake and/or tissue levels of n-3 (omega-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are associated with postpartum depression. Low tissue levels of n-3 PUFAs, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are reported in patients with either postpartum or nonpuerperal depression. Moreover, the physiological demands of pregnancy and lactation put childbearing women at particular risk of experiencing a loss of DHA from tissues including the brain, especially in individuals with inadequate dietary n-3 PUFA intake or suboptimal metabolic capabilities. Animal studies indicate that decreased brain DHA in postpartum females leads to several depression-associated neurobiological changes including decreased hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor and augmented hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal responses to stress. Taken together, these findings support a role for decreased brain n-3 PUFAs in the multifactorial etiology of depression, particularly postpartum depression. These findings, and their implications for research and clinical practice, are discussed.