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Biomarker Linked To Depression During Pregnancy, Low Birth Weight In Infants

Update Date: Jan 16, 2017 07:09 PM EST

Depression is common in pregnancy, with as many as one in seven women suffering from the condition in the United States alone. Scientists have found a blood biomarker that can predict women are more likely to suffer from depression during pregnancy or give birth to low birth weight babies.

Lower blood levels of a biomarker dubbed as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) have been linked to depression in various studies, mainly in non-pregnant adults. Now, in a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, scientists at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in the United States discovered that BDNF levels change during pregnancy and may lead to depression in the mother and low birth weight in the infant.

"Our research shows BDNF levels change considerably across pregnancy and provide predictive value for depressive symptoms in women, as well as poor fetal growth," Lisa M. Christian, lead author of the study, said in a press release.

"It's notable that we observed a significant difference in BDNF in women of different race," she added.

Greater Depressive Symptoms In The Third Trimester

To land to their findings, the researchers took blood samples during and after pregnancy from about 139 women. They observed that the levels of BDNF decreased significantly from the first through the third trimesters. Moreover, the levels eventually increased after giving birth.

On average, black women showed significantly higher BDNF than white women during pregnancy. When the researchers controlled the race, lower BDNF levels at both the second and third trimesters predicted greater depressive symptoms in the third trimester. Mothers who gave birth to low birth weight babies demonstrated markedly lower BDNF in the third trimester.

Though anti-depressants showed increased BDNF levels and may help address the problem, it is not without potential side effects.

"Luckily, another very effective way to increase BDNF levels is through exercise," Christian said.

"With approval from your physician, staying physically active during pregnancy can help maintain BDNF levels, which has benefits for a woman's mood, as well as for her baby's development," she added.

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