Blueberry-amino acid supplement eases postpartum blues in study

Canadian researchers paired blueberry antioxidants and two amino acids to quell the postpartum blues some mothers feel in the first few days after giving birth.  Quelling that symptom could help head off full blown cases of the more serious postpartum depression.

Hank Schultz, Senior Editor

April 12, 2024

3 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Some women experience postpartum blues in the first few days after giving birth.
  • This brief episode can lead to more serious, long-term bouts of postpartum depression.
  • Researchers had success using blueberries, amino acids to reset mothers’ neurotransmitter imbalances.

A new study suggests a supplement intervention based on blueberry extract and amino acids can help ward off postpartum blues, a sharp onset of depressive symptoms that can presage longer and more serious bouts of postpartum depression.

The new research was published this week in the journal eClinicalMedicine.  It was the work of a team associated with the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

The issue the researchers were seeking to address is the phenomenon known as “postpartum blues.”

Many mothers, especially first-time mothers, experience exhaustion and low mood in the first few days after delivery.  For some, however, this condition can be relatively severe and can develop into a full-blown bout of postpartum depression, which is difficult to treat and can last months or more with serious implications both for the mother and her offspring.

Biochemical background for postpartum blues

Postpartum blues are thought to be the result of low oxygen levels in the mother’s brain during delivery. This gives rise to an imbalance in the biochemical pathways associated with major neurotransmitters.

Women who report postpartum blues symptoms exhibit higher levels of monoamine oxidase A, an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.

Work done by researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany as well as the University of Toronto has identified monoamine oxidase A as a possible biomarker to predict the severity of the depressive episode and whether early and aggressive intervention is called for.’

High levels of monoamine oxidase A, indicating a lot of neurotransmitter breakdown taking place, also raises levels of hydrogen peroxide in the body. High hydrogen peroxide levels are associated with cell apoptosis among other negative outcomes.

The researchers designed a supplement formula to address the special aspects of this biochemical pathway.

To address the higher hydrogen peroxide levels, they concocted a beverage using blueberry juice fortified with additional blueberry antioxidants.

To address the low levels of the neurotransmitters, they added l-tryptophan, which may increase the release of serotonin and l-tyrosine, which may increase the release of dopamine and norepinephrine

The research team had completed a promising, open label trial of the supplement formula prior to the onset of the global pandemic.  The follow up research in the form of a double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial began recruiting subjects in December 2018 and wrapped up recruitment in December 2022.

By that time the researchers had recruited 116 eligible participants who lived within a 3-hour drive of Toronto. Of these, 102 completed the supplement regimen which only extended over a couple of days and 100 complete the six-month follow up.

Short intervention window

The participants began using the supplement formula, which was packaged in a sachet with 2 grams of tryptophan and 10 grams of tyrosine, which was mixed into the blueberry b beverage, at day two after birth and continued through day five.  This time windown has been identified as the high-risk window for the development of postpartum blues.

 The placebo group mixed a placebo powder into a placebo beverage that mimicked blueberry juice and used it at the same intervals.

The main outcome was self-assessed depression symptoms judge on a visual analogue scale. The subjects responded to a similar visual analog scale to assess depression symptoms at their six month follow up.

The researchers found the supplement intervention had a significant effect in dampening postpartum blues symptoms and was linked with a lower level of depressive symptoms at the six month follow up.

Heading depression off at pass

While the researchers said the findings must still be consider preliminary, the outcome was promising.  Blunting this first, sharp depressive episode experienced by a significant number of mothers could improve their overall mental health down the road.

“It may seem conceptually unlikely that a dietary intervention completed at day 5 is associated with less depressive symptoms 6 months later, but the link between severe postpartum blues in early postpartum and presence of depression symptoms several months later is well established,” they concluded.

About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz has been the senior editor of Natural Products Insider since early 2023. He can be reached at [email protected]

Prior to joining the Informa team, he was an editor at NutraIngredients-USA, a William Reed Business Media publication.

His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors. The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.

The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.

Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.

In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.

When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.

Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.

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