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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


US Military Evalulating Benefits of Omega-3 Supplementation

By Michael McBurney

At the Council for Responsible Nutrition Day of Science, Dr Wayne Jonas (@waynejonas1) from the Samueli Institute highlighted the release of a special issue of Military Medicine entitled “Nutritional Armor: Omega-3 for the Warfighter”. The collection of peer-reviewed papers demonstrate the importance of maintaining n-3/n-6 balance to fulfill demanding mental and physical performance expectations of active military personnnel.

Previously, Lieberman and colleagues reported that 53% of active-duty soldiers report using dietary supplements more than once per week. The most common supplements used are multivitamin-mineral supplements (37.5%) followed by sports beverages (23%) and protein/amino acids (18.7%).

According to Knapik and colleagues, the prevalence of dietary supplement use varies among the services. The most elite military teams report the highest use of any dietary supplements (76%) and multivitamin-mineral supplements (37%).

Because soldiers have to perform under demanding circumstances, Dr Jonas indicated that the US military is systematically reviewing the scientific literature to determine if dietary supplementation could be a pragmatic means to help soldiers perform. The series of papers in Military Medicine is the outcome of the review. If evidence is found, Dr Jonas suggested the US military is willing to develop recommendations specific to military personnel.

The Panel concluded that there was  “sufficient evidence to support increasing omega-3 intake to receive cardiovascular, immunological, and surgical benefits. In addition, research indicates that preloading with omega-3 FAs before combat exposure may be beneficial. Evidence for reduction of depressive symptoms and suicide prevention was felt to be strong. Insufficient data were available to evaluate post-traumatic stress disorder and impulsive aggression. Benefits for traumatic brain injury were promising. Adverse side effects were deemed negligible.

The conclusion is particularly strong: “The Panel concluded that based on studies analyzing omega-3 and omega-6 FA balance, it would be unethical to not attempt elevating the omega-3 status among U.S. military personnel.

Main Citations

Montain S, Jonas WB. Nutritional armor: Omega-3 for the warfighter. 2014 Military Med doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00452

Coulter I. The response of an Expert Panel to Nutritional Armor for the Warfighter: Can Omega-3 fatty acids enhance the stress resilience, wellness, and military performance? 2014 Military Med doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00189

Other Citations

Lieberman HR, Stavinoha TB, McGraw SM, White A, Hadden LS, Marriott BP. Use of dietary supplements among active-duty US Army soldiers. 2010 Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2010.29274

Knapik JJ, Steelman RA, Hoedebecke SS, Farina EK, Austin KG, Lieberman HR. A systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary supplement use by military personnel. 2014 BMC Compl Alt Med doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-143