New Study Targets At-Risk Servicemembers

Fatty acids could lower suicide risk. Image from

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - A new $10 million, three-year study will investigate whether daily doses of a common dietary supplement could help curb the number of suicides among military personnel and veterans, researchers said on Monday.

The study, set to begin in South Carolina in January, is part of the Defense Department's heightened focus on suicide prevention as the number of service members attempting to take their own lives has risen.

There were 17,754 suicide attempts among veterans last year - about 48 a day - up from 10,888 in 2009, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In July of this year, 26 active-duty soldiers were believed to have committed suicide, the most ever recorded in a month since the U.S. Army began tracking such deaths.

The first part of the new clinical trial will examine the effects of daily omega-3 fatty acid supplements on about 320 at-risk military personnel and veterans, said researcher Ron Acierno, director of the post-traumatic stress disorder clinic at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Charleston.

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil and not produced by the human body, are instrumental in repair and regeneration of brain cells, Acierno said.

The study will be funded by taxpayer dollars allotted by the Defense Department. It will be conducted by researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

On average, about 100 Americans die each day from suicide, officials said. More than 8 million U.S. adults seriously thought about suicide in the last year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.