Chemical injury goes by many names. Some believe that Gulf War Illness is one of those names and that the syndrome is related to the chemical exposures that veterans faced. In 2008, the author of a National Academy of Sciences study was quoted in an AFP article on the issue. She stated her belief that "enough studies have been conducted . . . to be able to say with considerable confidence that there is a link between chemical exposure and chronic, multi-symptom health problems.” She added that “the same chemicals affecting Gulf War veterans may be involved in similar cases of unexplained, multi-symptom health problems in the general population."
Last week, a study was published that sheds more light on Gulf War Illness. Articles published in USA Today and the LA Times note the following components of the study and its results:
- Clinicians measured the blood pressure of 28 ill veterans and a healthy control group while they were lying down. When the subjects stood, readings were taken again. In the healthy subjects, blood pressure immediately rose to normal levels and no problems were reported. Among the ill veterans, 10 experienced an abnormally high jump in pressure and the other 18 reported an increased perception of pain.
- Researchers then tested subjects using exercise stress tests and functional MRIs (brain scans that allow observers to determine which parts of the brain are being activated at a given time). Brain scans were administered while volunteers completed an exercise designed to test short-term memory. Two scans were administered: one after rest and the other after an exercise session.
- Two subgroups of Gulf War Illness sufferers were identified. One group had elevated pain after exercise. The other group experienced heart racing when they stood up after lying down.
- Two corresponding patterns of brain atrophy were discovered. In veterans who had elevated levels of pain, scans showed a loss of brain matter in areas associated with pain regulation. Scans of the veterans with heart racing issues showed atrophy in the brain stem, which is associated with control of heart rate and blood pressure.
A researcher explained that because of brain dysfunction, people suffering from Gulf War Illness compensate when doing cognitive tasks. Brain activity follows a circuitous path which can be described as a “crutch” which performs the task usually performed by a different brain region. He noted that after exercise "It was as if you took the crutches away.”
The study is just another example of the very real problems that can be caused by toxins in the environment. Let’s take the issue seriously. Chemical injury is easier to prevent than to cure.