A minuscule study of cell function in veterans of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War could have widespread impact on future research into Gulf War illness.
Researchers at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine found that the mitochondria — the cell’s power plants, responsible for converting oxygen and glucose into chemical energy — in veterans with Gulf War illness don’t function as well as mitochondria in unaffected individuals.
By testing recovery time of muscles at the cellular level following exercise, the researchers found that affected Gulf War veterans “displayed significantly delayed recovery.”
According to the study, recovery time in normal individuals was less than 31 seconds. But all except one Gulf War illness veteran measured recovery time between 35 seconds and 70 seconds.
The study was small — just seven veterans with Gulf War illness and seven controls. But researcher Dr. Beatrice Golomb described the difference in results as “visibly striking,” with “a large average difference as statistically significant.” She said the mitochondrial impairment could account for many of the symptoms of Gulf War Illness.
“The classic presentation for mitochondrial illness involves multiple symptoms spanning many domains, similar to what we see in Gulf War illness. These classically include fatigue, cognitive and other brain-related challenges, muscle problems and exercise intolerance, with neurological and gastrointestinal problems also common,” Golomb said.
Golomb believes the evidence could explain why an antioxidant, the coenzyme Q10, helped relieve some of the symptoms of Gulf War illness, including headaches, problems focusing and fatigue, in another study she conducted.
The research needs replication and further study, possibly using different mitochondrial assessment tools for further validation, the researchers said. But as the UC-San Diego public affairs staff noted, the study does imply that “Gulf War illness is not in veterans’ heads, but in their mitochondria.”
Over half a million U.S. troops suffer from stress-induced problems like post-traumatic stress (PTS). Left untreated, PTS cripples functioning and puts military personnel and veterans at greater risk for self-destructive and violent behavior: severe depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, anxiety, emotional numbness, unemployment, family problems and suicide. More than 6,500 Veterans commit suicide every year.
The Department of Defense has invested millions of dollars in programs to prevent stress-related psychological disorders such as PTS. However, the Institute of Medicine panel of the National Academies concluded there is little evidence that they are effective.
Their new report, “Preventing Psychological Disorders in Service Members and Their Families, an Assessment of Programs” faults these programs for not being consistently evidence-based or adequately evaluated. In fact, experts acknowledge that PTS has generally been highly resistant to the many conventional approaches traditionally used to treat psychological disturbance. There is, however, an alternative approach highly effective in treating PTS.
We suggest that more attention be given to the large body of evidence supporting this alternative approach, the Transcendental Meditation Program. Transcendental Meditation, also known as TM, is an evidenced-based solution, with a substantial amount of published, peer-reviewed research that has accumulated since 1970. In both case studies and clinical trials, TM has vastly outperformed other modalities by dramatically reducing stress, anxiety, depression and a host of PTS symptoms.
Numerous studies show that TM uniquely calms the stress of wired-up, burnt-out, anxious, and depressed people. In particular, a 2013 meta-analysis of 10 controlled studies found that TM, significantly reduced anxiety, and the higher the anxiety level, the greater the reduction.
This, based on a long-term study they published showing a 48 percent reduction in strokes, heart attacks and early death. Here are some evidence-based examples relating to PTS:
• The February 2014 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress documents significant reductions in PTS symptoms within 10 days among African war refugees from the Congo who were taught TM. In a month, eleven subjects were virtually free of symptoms.
• An April 2013 study in the same journal showed that PTS symptoms among African refugees went from “severe” to “non-symptomatic levels” after 30 days of TM and remained low at 135 days.
• In 2011, the journal Military Medicine published a study showing the effectiveness of TM in reducing PTS in veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Participants had a 50 percent reduction of symptoms after eight weeks of TM.
• In 1985, a report in the Journal of Counseling and Development demonstrated a significant reduction of symptoms among Vietnam War veterans practicing TM for at least three months. A control group using psychotherapy was found to have had no significant improvements.