Promising Omega-3 study can help MUSC help vets
Itís too early to celebrate omega-3 fatty acids as a way to reduce the risk of suicide among hurting military veterans. Scientists have to prove it first.
But itís not too early to celebrate that this important three-year, $10 million research project will be performed in Charleston by the Medical University of South Carolina, the Veterans Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
MUSCís Dr. Bernadette Marriott has proposed that a daily supplement of omega-3 fatty acids will reduce the hazards of mental illness and suicide among high-risk military veterans. The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, of the Department of Defense, will manage the trial.
If her thesis can be proven, doctors could chisel away at the staggeringly high rate of suicide among military veterans ó almost twice the rate among the general population. From 2005 through 2009, 1,100 U.S. servicemen and women committed suicide; in 2010, 295 active-duty military personnel took their own lives.
Our military deserves every effort to change this distressing pattern. And if even a small part of the solution is as simple to implement as popping fish oil pills or changing diets, even better.
Dr. Marriott, who is in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, plans a controlled study of more than 300 veterans who already receive mental health services. All will be given smoothies for six months. Some will be high in omega-3s. Others will not.
If the results are encouraging, the study will investigate further. And if the findings are persuasive enough, the military could consider providing supplements to all military personnel.
This is part of more than $100 million that has been designated for the study of suicide.
The benefits of omega-3s have been debated for years. Some studies have connected them to health benefits, including boosting heart health and lowering triglycerides. Studies show they may help with rheumatoid arthritis and depression.
But a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in September found otherwise. Researchers analyzed 20 controlled trials including 68,680 patients and found no significant effect on heart health outcomes.
However, a year ago, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry commended the MUSC research. It compared medical records of 800 U.S. servicemen and women who took their own lives from 2002 to 2008, and 800 who had no history of suicide attempts. It found that men with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood were 62 percent more likely to have been suicide victims than those with the highest levels.
MUSCís research has grown substantively over the past decade, reaching a peak of $243 million last year. It now is handling $232 million of research. The dip is because projects funded by federal stimulus money have ended.
The newly announced omega-3 research adds to the prestige of MUSC and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, and offers hope that we can provide better care for our military personnel, active and retired.