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Trial Looks at Effect of Omega 3 Supplementation on Veteran Suicides
CHARLESTON, SC – Could downing an omega-3 smoothie each day reduce suicides among at-risk veterans and servicemembers?
That’s exactly what researchers will be seeking to determine in a new $10 million, three-year study of what effect supplementation with omega-3 high unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs) could have on mental illness or suicide attempts in 300 veterans who are determined to be at increased risk for suicidal behaviors.
A pilot sub-study will observe the impact of omega-3 supplementation and alcohol consumption in suicidal veterans in general, as well as those with alcohol use disorders.
The study, funded by the Military Operational Medicine Joint Program Committee (JPC-5) and managed by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), will be based at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center here.
“Research conducted in our lab during the last 20 years points to a fundamental role for omega-3 fatty acids in protecting against major depression, substance abuse and other problems,” said co-investigator Capt. Joseph R. Hibbeln, MD, of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics. “Here we hope to be successful in understanding if omega-3 may play a role in reducing risk of severe suicidal behaviors among U.S. military veterans."
A 2011 study, conducted by researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse in Bethesda, MD, determined that suicide risk was greatest among individuals with the lowest levels of DHA, the major omega-3 fatty acid concentrated in the brain.
In that study when the population was stratified by levels, those with lower levels of omega-3s had a 62% increased risk for a documented suicide. The authors noted that, although study showed a strong association between low omega-3 blood levels, in particular DHA, and active-duty military suicides, it did not prove casualty.
The new clinical trial will attempt to take the research a step further.
Ron Acierno, PhD, another co-principal investigator with dual appointments at the Medical University of South Carolina and the Charleston VAMC, predicted that the trial could have far-reaching effects.
“Suicidal thoughts and behaviors cut across a variety of emotional problems faced by active duty personnel and veterans, from PTSD to depression to grief at losing a fellow soldier,” Acierno said. “If we establish that this omega-3 treatment, a treatment with virtually no side effects, is effective at reducing the risk of suicide, we will have begun to pay back the debt of service we owe our Armed Forces personnel.”
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