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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Army looking at fish oil benefits

Research links low omega-3 to higher rates of military suicides


USA-Today- The Army is eager to know whether omega-3 fatty acids are not only good for the heart, but also might deter soldiers from killing themselves.

“I’m all over it, because I’m looking for something to help,” says Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, who has been working for years to reduce the service’s record number of suicides.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry last month showed that men in the service with low levels of an omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, were 62% more likely to commit suicide. The researchers compared routine blood samples taken from 800 servicemembers from 2002 to 2008 — and who months later committed suicide — with samples taken from 800 other servicemembers.

The authors say their findings do not suggest fish oil is a way to deter suicides. The Army suicide rate reached 22 per 100,000 last year, higher than civilians of the same age group.

Omega-3s are found naturally in foods such as fatty fish and walnuts and have been shown to help prevent heart disease. Preliminary studies suggest that the supplements could help relieve symptoms of certain depressions, the Mayo Clinic says. Experts note that fish oil’s potential benefits for mental health need to be confirmed in larger, more rigorous studies.

Even so, the potential psychiatric benefits of omega-3s could be a factor in reducing the suicides, says Joseph Hibbeln, a co-author of the Journal study and nutritional neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health.

“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,” Chiarelli says.

Some findings have been disappointing. A study in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that fish oil supplements didn’t help prevent preterm labor. The supplements, marketed to boost brain development, also didn’t make babies smarter, the Journal of the American Medical Association said.

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