APrON Study Seeks Help from Pregnant Women

Dr. Catherine Field

Dr. Catherine Field

What impact nutrition has on the mental health of pregnant women and the development of their babies is the focus of a new study called APrON—Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition.
This study funded by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medication Research, is currently seeking participants from Edmonton and Calgary, and is designed to follow 10,000 pregnant women and their infants.
According to Dr. Catherine Field, a professor of nutrition at the University of Alberta and one of three principle investigators with APrON, depression during pregnancy is on the rise. Recent statistics indicate about 12 percent of pregnant women will either be diagnosed with or seek medical help for depression.
Says Dr. Field, “There’s a growing body of literature suggesting that nutrition, even things like body weight gain during pregnancy, can influence mental health which, of course, can also influence what the mother is eating if she is suffering from some level of depression. We really don’t know that association. And actually, there’s no group in North America looking at mental health and nutrition.”
The nutrition aspect of the study will focus on three micro-nutrients that are often deficient in western diets: Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and folic acid.
She explains, “If we look at the Omega-3 fatty acids, they’re in very high concentrations in the brain. And we know from animal work, if they are insufficient in the diet, we have effects on learning and effects on normal brain development. Iron is very important for some of the signals in the brain. And we know in children, if there’s insufficient iron there are effects on learning behaviour. And the B vitamins are also very important in both the development of brain cells but also in the optimal function of brain cells.”
Dr. Field’s team hopes that, by uncovering links between nutrition and depression during pregnancy, they can develop intervention programs to prevent conditions such as post-partum depression and attention deficit disorder.
Women interested in participating in the APrON study can find more information at www.apronstudy.ca or by calling 780-492-4667. √

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