According to findings published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, male US military personnel on active-duty between 2002 and 2008 with the lowest levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) were at a 62% increased risk of suicide than counterparts with higher levels.
“Low DHA status can be readily reversed using low-cost dietary interventions that are likely to have multiple beneficial health effects,” wrote researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) and the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“We were surprised to find just how low the levels of omega-3 fatty acids were in the entire sample,” said Army Col. (Dr.) Michael D. Lewis, lead author of the study.
“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.”
The researchers analyzed data from 800 US military suicide deaths and compared this with 800 control subjects. The mean age of the subjects was 27.3.
Results showed that for every incremental decrease in DHA levels, the risk of suicide death increased by 14%.
In addition, the risk was significant amongst men, with the lowest DHA levels associated with a 62% increase in suicide risk.
The researchers note that suicide is linked to a combination of factors, included social, psychological, and environmental factors. Indeed, the risk of suicide was 52% higher in service personnel who reported having seen wounded, dead, or killed coalition personnel.
“Our findings add to an extensive body of research that points to a fundamental role for DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids in protecting against mental health problems and suicide risks,” said U.S. Public Health Service Capt. (Dr.) Joseph Hibbeln, corresponding author on the study.
“For example a previous placebo-controlled trial demonstrated that 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day reduced suicidal thinking by 45 percent, along with depression and anxiety scores among individuals with recurrent self-harm.”
The researchers called for well-designed intervention trials to evaluate causality.
Source: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry
Available online, doi: 10.4088/JCP.11m06879
“Suicide Deaths of Active-Duty US Military and Omega-3 Fatty-Acid Status: A Case-Control Comparison”
Authors: M.D. Lewis, J.R. Hibbeln, J.E. Johnson, Y. Hong Lin, D.Y. Hyun, J.D. Loewke