Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Military Suicide

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Military Health

Suicide rates among active military members and veterans post 9/11 have seen a dramatic increase. In fact, an estimated 30,177 active-duty personnel and veterans of the post 9/11 wars have died by suicide. The increase in these numbers among the military can be related to diet, trauma, and mental health disorders.

Diets of active-duty personnel can be limited based on location in the world and availability of nutritious foods. Foods that are rich in omega-3s may be hard to obtain and can lead to several issues affecting mental and physical health. Omega-3 fatty acids are vital to overall health and must be consumed regularly to receive benefits.

What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are known as essential fats that are needed for survival. Omega-3s provide a starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. This essential fat is highly concentrated in the brain and can be important for cognitive and behavioral function

This fatty acid needs to be ingested through food or supplements because the body cannot produce omega-3s on its own. The recommended daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids for males is 1.6 grams, while for females 1.1 grams and a slight increase in pregnancy or lactation to 1.4 grams per day.

Types of Fatty Acids

The three main types of omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and α-Linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is mainly present in foods like green leafy vegetables, flax seeds, chia seeds, canola oil, walnut oil, and soybean oil. EPA and DHA types of omega-3s are most commonly found in foods like oily fish, krill oil, and algae oil.

ALA is the most common type of fatty acid and can be converted into EPA or DHA  to receive health benefits in the body. The conversion process can be ineffective and based on adequate levels of other nutrients. ALA is used for energy but is more useful in the body once it is converted into EPA or DHA.

Seafood & Omega-3s

Seafood provides a rich amount of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. Seafood can be used as an easy way to increase the DHA and EPA in the body. Fish or seafood can be eaten one to two times per week to raise EPA and DHA levels to a healthy level.

Most common seafood and omega-3 fatty acid content:

  • Salmon (farmed) – 4,504 mg/serving
  • Salmon (wild) – 1,774 mg/serving
  • Anchovy – 1,200 mg/serving
  • Swordfish – 868 mg/serving
  • Halibut – 740 mg/serving
  • Tuna (albacore) – 733 mg/serving
  • Mussels – 665 mg/serving

Benefits of Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial to overall health and can help improve chronic condition symptoms. These fatty acids are essential for cell membranes and particularly for brain development.

Benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Improving heart health – raising HDL cholesterol, lowering LDL cholesterol, lowering triglycerides, and reducing blood pressure
  • Improving mental health – reducing symptoms of depression and can help with preventing major depressive disorder (MDD) in individuals
  • Reducing inflammation – specifically EPA and DHA can help reduce inflammatory responses in the body including reducing inflammation from diseases

Omega 3 Supplements

Omega-3 supplements are generally safe and produce mild if any side effects. Mild side effects of these supplements can include bad breath, unpleasant taste, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Omega-3 supplements may react with medications that affect blood clotting.

Provide caution when taking fish oil supplements if an allergy to fish is present. Instead, there are other vegetarian supplements like algal oils and flaxseed oil that can be used for similar effects.

How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Can Help the Military

One study found that military servicemen and women who had low DHA in their blood increased their risk of committing suicide by 62% compared to those with high levels of DHA. Increases of EPA and DHA found a 45 % reduction in suicidal thinking and a 30% reduction in depression among patients with recurrent self-harm.

In addition to traditional treatments for suicidal ideation like psychotherapy or medication, sufficient amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of suicide. Low-cost dietary intervention techniques like meal planning or supplements can efficiently reverse low DHA complications.

Mediterranean diets can be linked to lower risks of depression and suicide. Mediterranean diets consist of low quantities of red meat and high quantities of omega-3 rich foods. Omega-3 rich foods that are often found in this diet include fish, seafood, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.

Treatment for Suicidal Ideation

Suicidal ideation risk increases among veterans due to mental illness and trauma. An insufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids may cause an increased risk for suicide and suicidal ideation in the military. In addition to therapy or medication, consumption of omega-3s can reduce suicidal thinking and behaviors.

If you or a veteran you know are struggling with suicidal ideation, reach out to Solara Mental Health today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our program.