Study Links Low DHA Levels with Military Suicides

The lead author of the retrospective study, Army Col. (Dr.) Michael D. Lewis, said they were surprised by how low the levels of omega-3 fatty acids were in the entire sample.

A study performed by researchers at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism confirmed that the suicide risk among a sample of active-duty U.S. service members was highest for individuals with the lowest levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is the major omega-3 fatty acid concentrated in the brain. The study has been published online in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The paper is titled "Suicide Deaths of Active-Duty US Military and Omega-3 Fatty-Acid Status: A Case-Control Comparison."

The NIAAA group was headed by Capt. Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D., while the lead author on the study was Army Col. (Dr.) Michael D. Lewis, assistant professor in USU's Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics. They analyzed a sample of suicide deaths among U.S. military personnel on active duty between 2002 and 2008. The researchers compared levels of omega-3 fatty acids of 800 individuals who committed suicide with those of 800 randomly selected controls — service members who were matched with the suicide cases by age, sex, and rank.

"We were surprised to find just how low the levels of omega-3 fatty acids were the in entire sample," Lewis said. "There was still a significant suicide risk when we stratified the population. When we compared the 1,400 samples with the lowest levels of DHA to the remaining 200, there was a 62 percent increased risk that the samples were from a documented suicide. We need to continue to evaluate these results with a well-designed interventional study, but this represents a potential simple nutritional intervention that warrants further investigation."

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients the body cannot make, so they must come from food sources. Seafood is a major dietary source of them. Previous studies have associated low levels of omega-3 fats or low dietary intake of seafood with suicide, thoughts of suicide, and depression, USU rpeorts.

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