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Genetic research sheds new light on suicide risk for veterans – Reuters

For the first time, researchers are beginning to understand the genetics of suicide attempts.

In a new study this year, VA researchers compared the genes of veterans who attempted suicide to the genes of veterans with no report of a suicide attempt. A study like this had never been done before. What has been discovered could one day help doctors better screen veterans at risk of suicide and prevent attempts in the first place.

Here’s what they found.

Ancestry and suicide risk may share genetic links

Looking at the genes of 14,089 veterans who reported a suicide attempt, several genetic ‘markers’ or points in their genome stood out that researchers didn’t show up in the roughly 400,000 veterans who reported no suicide attempts. in their medical records.

John Beckham

Many of these suspect genes were present in veterans of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. But researchers have also discovered genetic markers that appear to carry a higher risk of suicide attempts in some groups more than others. A few of these ancestry-specific genes have been found in African-Americans, European-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans.

“Genetic studies of suicide risk in the past did not have enough participants to examine race and ethnicity,” said Jean Beckham, one of the study’s researchers who also practices and teaches psychiatry. at Duke University. “What we’ve learned will help us better identify those most at risk of attempting suicide and offer interventions specific to their genes, background, and recent life events.”

Insomnia and low oxytocin levels may be risk factors

As the study’s researchers looked beyond the veterans’ genes and into their medical histories, as well as information gathered from lifestyle surveys, two other findings stood out.

Of the veterans in the study who reported a suicide attempt, many also described serious sleep problems like insomnia. The more severe the sleep disturbance, the more veterans report a suicide attempt.

VA researchers also found that those who attempted suicide had a harder time absorbing an important hormone called oxytocin. This natural hormone helps us with feelings of bonding and trust. For this reason, it is often called the “love hormone”. Previous research among the civilian population found that less oxytocin was linked to more suicidal intentions and attempts. VA research also supports this finding in veterans.

What does this mean for you?

With this growing body of knowledge, doctors may one day be able to offer genetic testing to identify your risk of attempting suicide. They may also be able to better screen you for suicide risk based on previously unknown risk factors, such as insomnia or difficult life events, which appear to have genetic links to suicide.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that veterans receive the right care at the right time to prevent suicide attempts in the first place. Research like this will help make that a reality.

How can I help you?

Veterans of these studies were enrolled in the Million Veteran Program (MVP), the VA’s largest research effort and one of the largest in the world on genes and health. When veterans join MVP, they agree to make their health and genetic information available to licensed researchers to study health and disease in veterans.

Thanks to more than 900,000 veterans in MVP, we understand the genetics of suicide risk better than ever. This is just the beginning of what our research has to offer.

Already, data from MVP veterans has supported the largest genetic studies to date on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, heart disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, one of the most most common types of chronic liver disease in the United States. Other areas we are studying include tinnitus, cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and Gulf War illnesses.

Make a difference for veterans. Join the Million Veteran program today.

To learn more and register, visit or call 866-441-6075. You do not need to be receiving VA health care to enroll.

Are you a veteran in crisis or concerned about a crisis? You’re not alone! The Veteran Crisis Line is here for you. You do not need to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to log in. Dial 988 then press 1.

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