Understanding Postpartum Depression: New Discoveries


Many women notice a temporary drop in their mood after giving birth, but for 13 percent of new mothers the mood change develops into postpartum depression.

Investigations into postpartum depression reveal that an enzyme called monoamine oxidase A is an instigator or indicator (or both) of this mood disorder. The latest research findings validate earlier studies that point to the role of monoamine oxidase A in postpartum depression.

The Enzyme and Postpartum Depression

Monoamine oxidase A breaks down some of our neurotransmitters including two associated with positive feelings, serotonin and dopamine. New mothers who become depressed have 21 percent more monoamine oxidase A in their brain than new moms who are not depressed.

Particularly, depressed mothers’ prefrontal cortex and their anterior cingulate cortex show elevated levels of the enzyme. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for brain activity related to planning, reasoning, and behavior regulation. Our anterior cingulate cortex is involved with decision making, emotional regulation, and the control of physiological processes such as heart rate and blood pressure.

Women who experience some depressive symptoms, such as sadness and crying, but do not develop postpartum depression show moderately raised values of monoamine oxidase A.

However, a rise in monoamine oxidase A after childbirth is not an abnormality. As estrogen levels fall after giving birth, monoamine oxidase A values go up in all new mothers. Most of the time, the values quickly normalize, but if the enzyme level remains high it is associated with the onset of depression.

New Avenues For Postpartum Depression Relief

“Therefore, we should promote strategies that help to reduce monoamine oxidase A levels in the brain, and avoid everything that makes these values rise,” said researcher Julia Sacher. “My ultimate goals is to provide women and their families with very concrete lifestyle recommendations that will enable them to prevent postpartum depression.”

Such lifestyle changes will include reducing smoking, alcohol consumption, and chronic stress levels—factors that promote increased monamine oxidase A.

The research may also lead to new postpartum depression drugs that target monoamine oxidase A. Now, mothers with postpartum depression may be given antidepressants that increase serotonin values in the brain. Since monoamine oxidase A breaks down serotonin, it may be more effective to inhibit this enzyme action. Such drugs are being developed, and testing their effectiveness with postpartum depression is planned.

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: Thomas / flickr


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