The Army is interested in learning more about whether omega-3 fatty acids may have chemical properties that can help deter suicide rates among soldiers.
Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, told USA Today that Army may want to take a closer look at research published last month that connected higher suicide rates with low levels of an omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic (DHA).
In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that servicemen who low rates of DHA were 62 percent more likely to take their own life. The findings were based on an analysis blood samples taken from 800 servicemembers between 2002 and 2008 -- all of whom later committed suicide -- compared with samples taken from 800 other soldiers.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found naturally in foods such as fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports it has been shown to help prevent heart disease. Preliminary studies have also found a deficiency of the chemical may cause or worsen depression in some individuals.
Jospeh Hibbeln, nutritional neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health who is a co-author of the study, told USA Today that there may be psychiatric benefits in omega-3 fatty acids that could ultimately reduce suicide rates. However, the study authors emphasized that their findings do not suggest that simply taking fish oil supplements, which are rich in omega-3s, is a viable way to deter suicides.
Data released by the Pentagon indicates the Army's suicide rate in 2010 reached 21.8 per 100,000 soldiers, surpassing the suicide rate of the general population for the first time. When U.S. forces initially invaded Iraq in 2003, the Army's suicide rate was considerably lower at 11.4 per 100,000 soldiers.
Chiarelli, who has reportedly been working to reduce the Army's suicide rate for years, said he is eager to see more testing in order to determine an omega-3 boost can truly benefit the nation's servicemen and women.
I'm trying to make sure our docs get going as fast as they can to get some clinical trials going so we can make a determination whether or not there's anything to this, he said.