MUSC researcher Ron Acierno will find out if omega 3 fatty acids can help veterans relieve depression. (Photo: MUSC/Stock File/FIS)
New study investigates omega-3 role in veterans' suicide prevention
Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 04:00 (GMT + 9)
A new three-year study of omega-3 fatty acids from fish will determine if the substance can reduce the unusually high risk of suicide among military veterans, where the rate is higher than in the population as a whole.
The USD 10 million-study being conducted for the Army was announced this week by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the Veterans Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
It will be funded by the Department of Defense and conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina. The study will test whether feeding omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils to veterans can relieve their anxieties and depression, NBC News reports.
“The problem is coming to a head with the recognition that in the military, you’re more likely to die by suicide than by enemy combatant – and that’s not acceptable,” said Ron Acierno, a co-investigator at MUSC and the nearby Ralph H Johnson Veterans Administration Medical Centre.
In the study, veterans already receiving mental health services will be consuming smoothies high in omega-3 for a six-month period, while the control group will be given a placebo.
Set to begin in South Carolina in January 2013, the experiment is part of the Defense Department's heightened focus on suicide prevention in light of increasing suicide attempts among service members.
Omega-3s are the main fats in the brain and are vital for neural function and normal brain development, according to Bernadette Marriott, a professor in the Institute of Psychiatry at MUSC and the principal investigator in the study, AP reports.
“Through other studies it's been found that they can help improve depression significantly,” she said.
The Veterans Administration estimates that 20 per cent of the suicides committed across the US are by veterans and that the rate among them is almost twice as high as in the general population.
“One of the questions this study hopes to address is, do we see a clinical effect that is strong enough that the military would then consider providing supplements to all military personnel, not just those who are already experiencing depression?” she said.
Acierno said the study will help researchers decide if this is a venture worth pursuing.
“If the intervention shows effects with people who are at risk, we then back it out a step and say here we have a minimal side-effect inexpensive intervention that helps people with risk factors. Does it work for everybody?” he asked.
Acierno noted that suicide rates among veterans are high whether the veterans have been deployed to war zones or not, ostensibly because those who do not go into combat experience stress as well.
“The military as an occupation is not a low-stress job,” he said. “They interact with dangerous equipment and in dangerous conditions under training conditions of extreme stress. If you combine that with the stresses of daily life it may exacerbate what may have already been a depression or a suicidality.”
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