Supplementation of a Low Dose of DHA or DHA+AA Does Not Prevent Peripartum Depressive Symptoms in a Small Population Based Sample

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Feb 1;33(1):49-52. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2008.10.003. Epub 2008 Oct 14.


Background: The decrease of maternal docosahexaenoic (DHA) status during pregnancy has been associated with postpartum depression, especially in women with a low intake of DHA. Since the DHA intake in the Netherlands is low, we investigated whether supplementation of low doses of DHA or DHA plus arachidonic acid (AA) during pregnancy and lactation could prevent depressive symptoms and sleep disturbances in this period.

Methods: Women were supplemented daily with placebo, DHA (220 mg) or DHA+AA (220 mg each) from week 16 of pregnancy till three months postpartum. Fatty acid analyses were performed in the available plasma samples at 16 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Depressive symptoms were measured in weeks 16 and 36 of pregnancy and six weeks postpartum using EPDS and within one week postpartum using a blues questionnaire.

Results: 119 women completed the study. The average frequency of fish intake was low, 0.94 times per week, and did not differ between the groups. The supplementation groups did not differ in mean EPDS scores or changes in EPDS scores, nor in incidence or severity of postpartum blues. Red blood cell DHA, AA and DHA/AA ratio did not correlate with EPDS or blues scores. Indices of sleep quality did not differ between the groups.

Conclusion: Supplementation of 220 mg/day DHA or DHA+AA (220 mg/day each) does not prevent peri-partum depressive symptoms, in a population based sample with low background DHA intake.

Trial registration: ISRCTN Register nr. ISRCTN58176213.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arachidonic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Arachidonic Acid / blood
  • Depression, Postpartum / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Placebos
  • Pregnancy
  • Sleep / drug effects


  • Placebos
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arachidonic Acid