"I'm all over it, because I'm looking for something to help," declared Army Vice-Chief of Staff General Peter W. Chiarelli, quoted in USA Today News September 20, in his response to a study finding an increased risk of suicide in US military personnel with low Omega-3 fatty acid serum levels.
The case control study of 800 active-duty suicide deaths and 800 matched controls, described as the largest study of biological factors among suicide deaths, was published online ahead of print August 23 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.1 The study ascertained a lower level of essential fatty acids in the military population than has been reported in many demographics in the U.S. and abroad.
Personnel with the lowest levels of the index measure docosahexsaenoic acid (DHA) had a 62 % higher suicide risk than those with the highest levels. This significantly elevated risk was comparable to that found in personnel who had reported prior mental health visits, and exceeded the 52 % increased risk in personnel who had reported seeing wounded, killed or dead coalition personnel during their deployment.
The unsaturated Omega-3 essential fatty acids are selectively concentrated in neural tissue and considered necessary for optimal neuronal functioning. This study associated each standard deviation of lower DHA with a 14 % greater risk of suicide death.
The investigators note that the U.S. Army recently initiated a $50 million observation study of personnel to identify modifiable risk and protective factors related to mental health and suicide. They anticipate that Omega-3 fatty acid status, readily maintained or corrected with diet and/or supplementation, will now be among the factors that are scrutinized.
1. Lewis MD, Hibbein JR, Johnson JE, et al. Suicide deaths of active-duty US Military and Omega-3 fatty-acid status: A case-control comparison. J Clin Psychiatry. Published online ahead of print Aug 23, 2011 (doi: 10.4088/jcp.11m06879) accessed 9/23/11.