MUSC study could change military diet, cut veteran suicides

(Scott Garrand/WCIV)

By Stacy Jacobson

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Research being done in the Lowcountry could change the diet of U.S. military personnel.

The Department of Defense has granted $10 million to researchers at MUSC and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center to study the effects of fish oil in helping reduce suicides among veterans.

Veterans commit suicide at twice the rate of civilians, according to MUSC Professor and VA post-traumatic stress disorder program director Dr. Ron Acierno.

"We're looking at epidemiological research over the years, specifically at Omega-3 fatty acids in the food supply. As they have diminished over time, rates of depression have gone up," Acierno said.

He said fish, sardines and walnuts contain Omega-3 fatty acids. For the study, veterans will drink their Omega-3 twice a day.

"The supplement is delivered in a juice box once in the morning, once in the evening," Acierno said.

He wanted to see if Omega-3 supplements helped balance the brain in at-risk suicide groups, like veterans. He said Omega-3 is an essential vitamin for the brain.

"If you're deficient, you have certain brain abnormalities and certain deficits. So we did have a hint already, in that this is a fatty acid that you need to survive," Acierno said.

The study could be a breakthrough because of Omega-3's accessibility, Acierno said. And for him, the chance to help our veterans is a chance to give back.

"If we identify risk groups, we can treat them with this very low-cost, low-side-effect-profile supplement. Even if we do a little good for a lot of people, a lot of good is done overall," he said.

The Omega-3 supplements aren't the only treatment the veterans will get; They will be in addition to mental health treatment through counseling and other means at the VA Medical Center in Charleston.