Report Confirms Gulf War Illness Likely Caused By Toxins
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new report from a Congressionally-mandated panel of scientific experts and veterans has found that Gulf War illness is most likely the result of exposure to toxins. The panel added research surrounding treatment of the condition has been advancing at an “encouraging” rate.
Gulf War illness was established as a legitimate condition in 2008 by the same Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC) that presented this latest report to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on Monday. Affecting as many as 250,000 veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War, symptoms of the condition include widespread pain, headache, cognitive disorders, fatigue, breathing problems, digestive symptoms, and skin abnormalities.
“The conclusions of the 2008 RAC report had a substantial impact on scientific and clinical thinking about Gulf War illness, as well as the public acceptance of this disorder,” noted RAC director Roberta White, chair of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health.
“Studies published since 2008 continue to support the conclusion that Gulf War illness is causally related to chemical exposures in the combat theater,” said White turning to the new report. “And many studies of the brain and central nervous system, using imaging, EEG and other objective measures of brain structure and function, add to the existing evidence that central nervous system dysfunction is a critical element in the disorder. Evidence also continues to point to immunological effects of Gulf War illness.”
Some of the newer studies have concluded that the nerve gases sarin and cyclosarin have caused magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) evidence in those with Gulf War illness that are associated with cognitive impairments.
“The Committee concludes that the evidence to date continues to point to alterations in central and autonomic nervous system, neuroendocrine, and immune system functions,” the report said.
The latest report also concluded that Gulf War illness does not appear to be related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It noted that rates of mental illness in Gulf War veterans are below the rates in veterans of other recent wars and far below the rate of Gulf War illness.
The report tied the release of nerve gas during the destruction of the Khamisiyah arms depot in Iraq and high levels of exposure to contaminants from oil well fires to elevated risk for brain cancer in Gulf War veterans.
With respect to treatment research, the report praised studies exposing animals to Gulf War toxins “because they can help to determine treatment targets in subgroups of veterans with specific exposures, for which there are known mechanistic pathways that cause illness and symptoms.”
“(R)esults from this work can be useful in protecting the health of future military personnel who will experience these exposures, as well as non-military populations with occupational or environmental exposures,” the report stated.
The RAC also said studies involving treatments such as certain dietary supplements, intranasal insulin, and continuous positive airway pressure appeared to be showing promise.
The report warned that “very little research” has been focused on the rate of neurological diseases in these veterans.
“No comprehensive information has been published on the mortality experience of U.S. Gulf War era veterans after the year 2000,” the report said.