Research published last year by Brain Health Education and Research Institute’s Michael Lewis, MD, in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported that active duty military with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were 62% more likely to have committed suicide compared to those with higher levels. The case-control study was reported widely in the news including CNN and the front page of the USA Today. Since then, Dr. Lewis and his NIH collaborator and psychiatrist, Joseph Hibbeln, MD, have been advocating for a prospective study to further evaluate their seminal findings.
This week, the military announced they are funding a three-year study to do just that. In cooperation with the NIH, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina led by Bernadette Marriott, PhD, a professor in the Clinical Neuroscience Division of the Institute of Psychiatry, will test whether omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils can relieve the anxieties and quiet the suicidal thoughts plaguing many combat veterans.
“The potential good versus the potential extraordinarily low risk and low cost make this a type of intervention that can be – if findings are warranted – rolled out extremely fast and on a large scale,” said Dr. Ron Acierno, a co-investigator on the project at USC. “Omega-3s are among the primary fatty acids in the brain… They’re responsible for neural generation and neural repair – for new neurons to be made and for broken ones to be fixed.”According to Dr. Hibbeln, “Research conducted in our lab [at the NIH] during the last 20 years points to a fundamental role for omega-3 fatty acids in protecting against major depression, substance abuse and other problems. Here we hope to be successful in understanding if omega-3 may play a role in reducing risk of severe suicidal behaviors among U.S. military veterans.”
While Dr. Lewis is not directly involved in this project, he adds, “It is great to know that the results of my research and one of the directions we’ve been asking the military to pursue are paying off. My good friend and US Public Health Service physician, Joe Hibbeln, was able to submit the proposal to DoD after my retirement from the Army and arranged for Medical University of South Carolina to take the lead. MUSC has the potential to do a fantastic job with this and we hope that the results will be quick and positive so we can start making a dent in the problem of military suicide with something simple and inexpensive as omega-3s.”
Another co-principal investigator of the study, Hugh Myrick, MD, said, “This study represents a novel intervention that could reduce the risk for suicide. If the results are positive, the impact on veterans, our current military personnel, and society will be immeasurable.”
Medical University of South Carolina Press Release: http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/musc/news/res_news/oct12_army_omega3.htm
Michael D. Lewis, MD; Joseph R. Hibbeln, MD; Jeremiah E. Johnson, RD; Yu Hong Lin, PhD; Duk Y. Hyun, BS; and James D. Loewke, BS. Suicide Deaths of Active-Duty US Military and Omega-3 Fatty-Acid Status: A Case-Control Comparison. J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(12):1585–1590. http://article.psychiatrist.com/dao_1-login.asp?ID=10007556&RSID=64983014079774