Gulf War illness traced to Chemicals

A review conducted by researchers by the University of California, San Diego, has found a strong connection between exposure to specific chemicals and the Gulf War illness experienced by veterans. The symptoms are mood-cognition problems, fatigue and musculoskeletal symptoms. To be precise, this includes muscle and joint pain, memory problems, rashes, sleep issues and breathing trouble. Veterans of the Persian Gulf War have elevated rates of chronic multi-symptom health problems compared to those who were never deployed in the military or those who were deployed in other areas.

Up to one third of veterans were exposed to pesticides, nerve agents and other chemical exposures. “Convergent evidence now strongly links a class of chemicals — acetylcholinesterase inhibitors — to illness in Gulf War veterans,” Dr. Beatrice Golomb of the University of California, San Diego, said.

To protect against exposure to nerve agents, veterans were given pills known as carbamate pyridostigmine bromide which contained acetylcholinesterase inhibitors which is an enzyme that regulates the vital neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Unfortunately, this backfired and the studies show that those who took the pill have worsened symptoms than those who did not.

“Across studies, significant positive relationships of acetylcholinesterase -related exposures to illness in GWV outnumber significant negative relationships more than chance would predict,” wrote Golomb. “The studies show a high consistency, with most showing a significant (typically strong) positive association. Few non-significant findings are present and virtually no inverse associations.”

Furthermore, it has been regrettable to note that some people have genetic variants that make them more vulnerable to such chemicals, and when exposed, these people are in more jeopardy of illness. “There is evidence that genetics have something to do with how a body handles exposure to these chemicals,” said Golomb. “Some people are genetically less able to withstand these toxins and evidence shows that these individuals have higher chance of suffering the effects of exposure.”


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