The U.S. military and alternative medicine – a match made in heaven

Armor All

Here’s the government’s take on omega-3 supplements…

  • Enhances stress resilience
  • Enhances general wellness
  • Improves performance
  • Cuts hospital bills
  • Speeds recovery from traumatic brain injuries

That last item gives it away: I’m not talking about the FDA. (As if!) I’m talking about the Department of Defense.

NutraIngredients-USA reports that the DOD actually does not have a current “official view” of omega-3 supplements. Not yet. But this past December the department took a big step forward by hosting an omega-3 conference called “Nutritional Armor for the Warfighter.”

And why WOULDN’T warfighters be interested? After all, research shows that omega-3 intake is effective in treating conditions for which soldiers commonly receive hospital care, including depression, surgical complications, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But this IS the military. So the omega-3 question is poking along at the speed of bureaucracy. Before going forward, military nutritionists have to assess exactly how omega-3 benefits will fit military needs.

Delivery is also a question mark. Should soldiers be given supplements, or should their food be fortified? One expert is leaning toward fortification. But there’s a sticking point: DOD policy currently prohibits supplementation with drugs or nutrients through the food supply.

(Hmmm…I wonder if they realize drinking water is supplemented with fluoride?)

Ahead of the curve

Omega-3 isn’t the only alt med getting a warm embrace from the military. Weirdly, Department of Defense officials seem to be downright progressive when it comes to general attitudes about alternative health care.

In 2008, USA Today reported that Pentagon officials have been investigating acupuncture, yoga, and even meditation to help deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among troops called on to serve multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You’re not going to find the words “Pentagon” and “meditation” in the same sentence very often!

Most surprising, acupuncture and other alternative therapies are already in use in some military hospitals. And the DOD earmarked about $5 million to alternative therapy research in 2008.

This is an impressive jump from previous years when exactly zero military dollars were spent on alternative treatment research.

Upcoming studies include a trial to test the effects of meditation on emotional resilience, and an acupuncture trial in patients who experience headaches linked to mild brain damage from bomb blasts.

But acupuncture has already been shown to be effective in relieving depression and PTSD symptoms. An Army colonel told USA Today that improvements “were relatively rapid and clinically significant.”

The next time you see a mainstream doctor on TV dismissing the lack of reliable alt med research (yeah, I’m talking to you, Dr. Snyderman), you can say, “Hey! Try telling that to the Pentagon!”

I’m just assuming you talk to your TV screen the way I do.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson


“U.S. Military May ‘Shock and Awe’ Omega-3 Market” Mike Stones, NutraIngredients-USA, 2/2/10, nutraingredients-
“Pentagon Researches Alternative Treatments” Gregg Zoroya, USA Today, 10/7/08,