By Spc. Roland HaleSeptember 28, 2010
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - An Army doctor serving in Iraq received approval from an Army medical review board Sept. 28 to study the effects of omega-3 fish oil capsules on deployed Soldiers\' mental health. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients obtained through food, and research indicates they have strong ties with mental and vascular health. The study will be conducted to determine whether the nutrients may be used to enhance deployed Soldiers' resilience to mood related disorders. Lt. Col. Daniel Johnston, brigade surgeon for the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, developed the concept of the study after attending a conference this November entitled "Nutritional Armor for the Warfighter." The conference was hosted by the Department of Defense and several government and private medical organizations to consider the potential of using omega-3 to supplement Soldiers' diets. The study is in keeping with the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program's efforts to strengthen Soldiers' mental resilience. Johnston officially proposed to conduct the study after his analysis of Soldiers' diets in Iraq indicated significantly low levels of omega-3. "Low levels of omega-3 fish oil in the diet is linked to mood disorders, and this study is designed to gain data that may help future Soldiers," said Johnston. Beginning this month, Johnston will provide Soldiers with omega-3 in the form of fish oil capsules. The effects of the capsules will be measured by a set of psychological tests, and the data will be compared to the results of a placebo drug. Johnston's hypothesis is that Soldiers taking the omega-3 supplements will exhibit higher cognitive performance, better mood state, and fewer combat symptoms. The drug company GlaxoSmithKline donated 100,000 capsules to the study after conducting an independent review of Johnston's protocol. The Food and Drug Administration approved the fish oil capsules for the study, said Johnston. The United States Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory is providing around $30,000 for blood analysis of omega-3 levels in the Soldiers. Around 250 service members from three U.S. bases in Iraq will participate in the study on an all-volunteer basis. Johnston will oversee the study on each site, and two Army psychiatrists will be co-investigators in the study. After the three month study, Johnston will study the results with Dr. Holden MacRae, a researcher in sports performance and exercise science from Pepperdine University, and Capt. Michael Dretsch from the USAARL, both of whom assisted in designing the study, said Johnston. "The Army will determine what, if any, applications there are of the research," said Johnston. "It is possible that an agency within the Army would look at supplementing Soldiers with omega-3 fish oil capsules as a type of immunization and resilience technique for mood disorders."