Postpartum Depression: A Holistic Perspective

Postpartum depression affects 10-15% of women who give birth, yet the research on pregnancy-related mood disorders is astonishingly one-dimensional. This research neither looks at metabolic and inflammatory markers, nor dietary and environmental exposures (chemical sensitivities) known to cause depression.

Conventional psychiatrists neglect to examine the possible underlying causes of postpartum depression, and instead prescribe medications that are often a placebo effect—at best—and harmful to both mother and child at worst.

Inflammation & Postpartum Depression

A recent study suggests that the most promising gauge of risk of postpartum depression are elevated inflammatory markers. One of the biological factors for PPD may be higher levels of homocysteine. Serotonin levels played a much less predictable role, because despite what we’ve been led to believe, depression is not a serotonin deficiency!

Researchers found elevated homocysteine at both 1-2 days postpartum and 6 weeks after delivery in women with confirmed postpartum depression. The babies of these mothers had lower APGAR scores (five characteristics used to check babies’ health—Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration.)

Homocysteine is a good candidate marker for postpartum depression—a complex inflammatory syndrome involving diet- and environment-driven immune reactivity. Methionine-homocysteine is an amino acid pathway that accomplishes recycling of homocysteine, which is necessary to for the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine and management of oxidative stress, among many other functions.

Vitamins B12, B9, and B6 are directly involved in the recycling of homocysteine, which means that low intake of these nutrients can promote inflammation and mood destabilization.

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body's ability to neutralize their damaging effects with antioxidants. It has been implicated in miscarriage, diabetes-related congenital malformations, spontaneous abortions, preterm birth, pre-eclampsia, fetal growth restriction and low birth weight.

Treating Postpartum Depression With Lifestyle Medicine

In order to minimize your risk of PPD, we recommend you ask a medical practitioner to test for the following:

  • MTHFR

  • Rbc folate

  • Homocysteine

  • hsCRP

  • B12, methylmalonic acid

  • HgA1C

Then consider using lifestyle medicine and partnering with a functional medicine provider. Lifestyle medicine includes:

Diet: The recommended diet is one that controls for glycemic fluctuations through elimination of refined carbs and grains and fuels the brain through high levels of natural fats.

Meditation: Even listening to a 20-minute guided meditation can have far-reaching positive effects due to the ability to reduce stress and influence expression of anti-inflammatory genes.

Exercise: Burst exercise—move to your max for 30 seconds, then recover for 90. 8 intervals 1-3 times per week are recommended.

Supplementation: Combined with the above interventions, polyunsaturated fats (evening primrose oil and fish oil), vitamin D, N-acetylcysteine, magnesium, curcumin (the active component of turmeric), and probiotics can create a positive synergistic effect.

Let Us Help You Flourish

At Flourish! we take an integrative approach to treating clients through mindfulness-based psychotherapy, nutritional services, and wellness consultations. A holistic approach allows us to provide individualized treatment, customized to the needs of each client. By evaluating the whole person, we’re able to get to the root cause of your symptoms and provide the most effective treatment plan so that you can live a fuller, happier life.

The most important value that all of our practitioners share: mindfulness. We believe mindfulness is key to cultivating well-being, but we understand that getting there often requires the guidance of an experienced and trusted facilitator.

If you struggle with postpartum depression, you could benefit from the integrative nutrition and mindfulness-based treatment options available at Flourish!

Jaclyn Hubersberger