Low Omega-3 Levels Linked to Military Suicides

August 25, 2011

2 Min Read
Low Omega-3 Levels Linked to Military Suicides

BETHESDA, Md.The record number of suicides among U.S. military personnel may be reduced with omega-3 supplementation, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health (J Clin Psychiatry. DOI. 10.4088/JCP.11m06879). The trial found the U.S. military population had a very low and narrow range of highly unsaturated omega-3 essential fatty acids (n-3 HUFAs) in their blood and said these data suggest low-serum docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may be a risk factor for suicide.

This study suggests supplementation with omega-3s, especially DHA, may be part of an overall strategy to reduce suicides among a population with an increased risk compared to the general population.

Among men in the study, those with the lowest level of DHA were 62-percent more likely to commit suicide compared to those who had the highest DHA level (adjusted OR=1.62; 95-percent CI, 1.122.34; P<0.01, comparing DHA below 1.75 percent [n=1,389] to DHA of 1.75 percent and above [n=1,41]). Among all U.S. military members in the study, the risk of suicide death was 14 percent higher for ever standard deviation of lower DHA percentage (OR=1.14; 95 percemt CI, 1.021.27; P<0.03) in adjusted logistic regressions. Risk of suicide death was 52-percent greater in those who reported having seen wounded, dead or killed coalition personnel (OR=1.52; 95% CI, 1.112.09; P<0.01).

In this retrospective case-control study, serum fatty acids were quantified as a percentage of total fatty acids among U.S. military suicide deaths (n=800) and controls (n=800) matched for age, date of collection of sera, sex, rank and year of incident. Participants were active-duty U.S. military personnel  from 2002 to 2008. For cases, age at death ranged from 17 to 59 years (mean=27.3). Outcome measures included death by suicide, post-deployment health assessment questionnaire (Department of Defense Form 2796) and ICD-9 mental health diagnosis data.

While this study suggests a link between low levels of DHA and suicide risk, the researchers noted well-designed intervention trials are needed to evaluate causality.

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