Army Studying Whether Omega-3 Gives Soldiers a Cognitive Boost

In this undated photo, soldiers participate in the Army's Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. (U.S. Army photo)In this undated photo, soldiers participate in the Army's Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. (U.S. Army photo)

Should troops start packing a supplement of Omega-3 fatty acids in their kit to give them better focus? That’s a question the U.S. Army is trying to answer.

The service has teamed with the Medical University of South Carolina on a study, “Ranger Resilience and Improved Performance on Phospholipid Bound Omega-3s,” which is expected to conclude in spring 2018, according to a press release.

The research is entirely voluntary; second lieutenants entering the Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Benning in Georgia are being invited to participate, according to the Army.

Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fish, nuts and seeds. They’ve been marketed as over-the-counter supplements to help treat any number of health conditions, from arthritis and heart disease to depression and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the website WebMD.

Now, the Army wants to know if such supplements give soldiers a cognitive boost.

“We’re hoping to learn if we can improve cognitive performances under stress because these young people who are going through [the Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course] and Ranger [School] are clearly under stress during specific times in their programs,” Bernadette Marriott, Ph.D., a professor at the university and the director of the nutrition section of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology, said in the release.

Specifically, the study will seek to measure inhibition and rule-monitoring, attention and information processing speed, psychological resiliency, working memory, reasoning, vigilance, focused visual attention, anxiety and mood state.

After recently reading “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War,” by P.W. Singer and August Cole, this correspondent can’t help but wonder if the Army plans do so similar studies on actual drugs like modafinil “for endurance and focus,” beta-blockers to “steady” nerves and desmopressin to “boost” memory.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.