More service members now are taking their own lives than are dying in combat. To read our in-depth series, go to startribune.com/lostwarriors.
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.
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 thinking is that the areas of the brain that are affected by this lack of a regenerative advantage of omega-3 also play a role in depression and other emotional disorders, and by proxy, suicide," he said.
Those considered to be at risk have talked about suicide, he said. Researchers will also include people with alcohol problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
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