New hope for lowering suicide rates in military veterans may lie not in a new drug but in a promising super food supplement: omega-3 fatty acids.
Experts in psychiatry, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, pain and brain imaging, among others - have just embarked on a three-year study of 300 local veterans. Half of the veterans in the study will be asked to consume a fruit smoothie, either containing omega-3s or a placebo containing macadamia nut oil, three times a day for six months, according to the study's lead principal investigator Bernadette Marriott.
"With a veteran dying by suicide an estimated every 80 minutes in the U.S., we are hoping to show that dietary intervention with omega-3 fatty acids will reduce suicide risk," said Marriott, adding that this is the only study of its kind currently underway.
Marriott has proposed that a daily supplement of omega-3 fatty acids, which are building blocks that play important roles in neuronal structure and function, will reduce the risks of mental illness and suicide among military veterans with increased risk of suicidal behaviors.
She said previous studies indicate that omega-3s reduce symptoms of severe depression, improve mood, and reduce impulsive behavior. Depression, impulsivity and excessive alcohol use can increase the risk for suicide, which has been linked to low levels of omega-3.
Marriott said omega-3s cannot be made naturally by our bodies but are found in a variety of foods - especially seafood.
An associated pilot sub-study will investigate the impact of Omega-3 dietary supplementation on alcohol consumption in suicidal veterans with alcohol use disorders.
Marriott said if the study provides evidence for improvements in curbing suicide in veterans, it could likewise apply to civilians suffering from similar problems.
The team is in the process of recruiting volunteers now from the Charleston area.