New research has revealed that low concentration of fish oil in the blood and lack of physical activity may contribute to the high levels of depressed mood among soldiers returning from combat. The study was conducted by Major Nicholas Barringer, PhD when he was a doctoral student under the direction of HLKN professor and department head Dr. Richard Kreider, in collaboration with several current and former members of the US Army, and colleagues at Texas A&M University.
The study originated from research conducted by Colonel Mike Lewis, MD who examined Omega-3 fatty acid levels of soldiers who committed suicide compared to non-suicide control and found lower Omega-3 levels in the blood was associated with increased risk of being in the suicide group.
In conjunction with Dr. Lewis’ research, Drs. Kreider and Barringer (now an assistant professor in nutrition at Baylor University) worked with 100 soldiers at Fort Hood to identify which factors affected moods in returning soldiers.
“We looked at how physical activity levels and performance measures were related to mood state and resiliency,” Dr. Kreider said.
Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids that help in boost brain function. Studies also show that fish oil acts as an anti-inflammatory within the body — helping athletes and soldiers manage intense training better. Fish oil content is especially important for soldiers due to the consistent training and physical regiments performed in and out of combat and risk to traumatic brain injury.
“What we found was the decrease in physical activity and the concentration of fish oil and Omega-3s in the blood were all associated with resiliency and mood,” Dr. Kreider said.
Dr. Barringer believes it to be a significant forward step toward addressing some of the issues many soldiers face.
“The mental health of our service members is a serious concern and it is exciting to consider that appropriate diet and exercise might have a direct impact on improving resiliency,” Dr. Barringer said.
In order to properly measure soldiers physically, Drs. Kreider and Barringer developed a formula that has the potential to assist in effectively screening soldiers with potential PTSD ahead of time. The formula measures a number of factors including: fitness and psychometric assessments, physical activity, and additional analysis.
“By improving resiliency in service members, we can potentially decrease the risk of mental health issues,” Dr. Barringer said. “Early identification can potentially decrease the risk of negative outcomes for our active service members as well as our separated and retired military veterans.”
The military is using some of our exercise, nutrition, and performance related work and the findings may help identify soldiers at risk to depression when they return from combat tours, Dr. Kreider said. He believes that by working to identify such high-risk issues faced by soldiers, it can set a precedent that will benefit not only military leadership, but also the general public.
“The public must realize that our soldiers need support before, during, and after their service,” Dr. Kreider said. “There needs to be a time for soldiers to transition, become re-engaged within a community, and stay engaged in that community.”
More information regarding fish oil and other exercise and nutrition related research can be found at the Exercise & Sport Nutrition Lab’s website.
Reference: Barringer ND, RS Kotwal, MD Lewis MD, LK Funderburk, TR Elliott, SF Crouse, SB Smith, M Greenwood, RB Kreider. Fatty Acid Blood Levels, Vitamin D Status, Physical Performance, Activity, and Resiliency: A Novel Potential Screening Tool for Depressed Mood in Active Duty Soldiers. Military Medicine. 2016;181(9):1114-20.