During the month of July 2011, 32 Army personnel took their own lives. This continues the alarming trend of increased suicide amongst servicemen and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry sheds light on one potential cause, and another offers a possible way to reverse this trend.
“Men whose records showed they had low levels of DHA in their blood were 62% more likely to have been suicide victims than those with the highest levels. The study suggests that low DHA levels were an even stronger predictor of suicide than a far-better-recognized risk factor among military personnel: whether the service member reported having had direct exposure to allied troops that had been killed or wounded.” – Chicago Tribune, August 24th, 2011
What is DHA, and why is it seemingly so critical to mental health? DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an Omega-3 fatty acid. It is considered an essential nutrient because our bodies cannot manufacture it. It must come from an outside source. Some sources include certain deep sea fish, flax seed, eggs, and grass fed beef.
The Standard American Diet (and its very appropriate acronym S.A.D.) provides only small amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, and extremely large amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids cause inflammation, which has been linked to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Two-thirds of our brains are made up of fat, and DHA is its major structural component. Is it possible that low levels of DHA could lead to suicidal behavior, depression and anxiety? Could using supplements improve these mental states? Studies and clinical trials are showing this is indeed the case.
“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,” said U.S. Public Health Service Capt. (Dr.) Joseph Hibbeln, acting chief of the Section of Nutritional Neurosciences in NIAAA’s Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics.
While it is becoming increasingly difficult to consume 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day due to mercury contamination of the world’s fish population, supplementation can be a safe and effective option.
However, anyone who is considering using supplementation should consult with a qualified Health Professional prior to beginning any regimen.
Last year, several leading manufacturers of over-the-counter fish oil supplements were the target of a lawsuit claiming their products contained levels of polychlorinated biphenol compounds (PCBs) that exceeded daily limits in California.