Raging hormones. Morning sickness. Add to that depression. Then top it up with the flu. What you get is a nasty cocktail of symptoms and complications.
Researcher s at the Ohio State University report that pregnant women who are suffering from more than your usual dose of baby blues –e.g. severe pregnancy depression – are more likely to suffer from severe flu symptoms than “less depressed” pregnant women.
The immune system of pregnant women is naturally weakened to accommodate the growing fetus. However, the study findings suggest that the immune system of depressed pregnant women is even more problematic, e.g. is not functioning typically, a dysfunction can be dangerous when it encounters infections such as the flu bug.
There is a well-established mind-body connection in people under chronic stress and depression. Pregnancy can be a stressful period, yet the mind-body connection during gestation is not well studied event.
According to Lisa Christian, an assistant professor of psychiatry:
“Our basic starting question was, do those same relationships between depression and immune function hold during pregnancy? And these studies suggest that they do. We see immune dysregulation during pregnancy due to stress and depression.”
Does having the flu shot help?
The researchers looked at 22 pregnant women who received the seasonal flu shot. The study participants were tested for inflammatory biomarkers in the blood before and after vaccination and completed questionnaires that asses depressive symptoms. In particular, post-vaccination blood samples were tested for macrophage migration inhibitory factor or MIF, which is a protein that promotes inflammation. The results of the study show
- Depressive symptoms and perceived were significantly more evident in women who were unhappy about their pregnancies, and in those less social support and more frequent hostile social interactions.
- Those women with stronger depressive symptoms had higher MIF levels in the blood after vaccination indicating a stronger biological reaction to the seasonal flu vaccine compared to women who were not depressed.
- The inflammatory responses to the flu shot do no harm, are mild, and typically go away within a few days but is indicative of the immune response when the actual infection strikes.
Research studies have shown that pregnancy suppresses certain functions of the immune system to prevent rejection of the fetus and to protect the fetus from inflammation that accompanies fevers and other illnesses. Excess inflammation during pregnancy, however, has been associated to increased risk of preterm birth and preeclampsia or gestational hypertension.
The study findings support the recommendations that pregnant women should get vaccinated against the flu. However, flu shots be it the seasonal or the H1N1 flu, are viewed with skepticism. Only about 12 to 13% of pregnant women in the US opt for flu vaccination.