Could drinking a special smoothie reduce the risk of suicide among military veterans?
That’s the hope of a new study announced by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) on Monday. The $10 million study commissioned by the Army will involve more than 300 veterans. Some will be given omega-3 acid smoothies, while the rest will get a placebo.
Omega-3s are important fats that exist in the brain. “Research conducted in our lab 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,” Capt. Joseph R. Hibbeln of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) said in a statement. “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.”
NIAA is partnering with MUSC and the Ralph Johnson VA Medical Center to conduct the study over the next three years. The Army is desperately trying to find a solution to an increasing number of veterans and active-duty personnel who are taking their own life. In July, the Army announced that 38 soldiers were believed to have committed suicide, the highest number ever reported.
Scientists have previously found links between omega-3 levels in the brain and depression or substance abuse. “Suicidal thoughts and behaviors cut across a variety of emotional problems faced by active duty personnel and veterans, from PTSD to depression to grief at losing a fellow soldier,” said Dr. Ron Acierno, an investigator with dual appointments at MUSC and the VA Center, “If we establish that this omega-3 treatment, a treatment with virtually no side effects, is effective at reducing the risk of suicide, we will have begun to pay back the debt of service we owe our Armed Forces personnel,”
All 300 military personnel involved in the study are already receiving mental health services. Most are out of the service, although Acierno says a small number will be active-duty.