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.