Gulf War Vets Show Signs of Syndrome

Nutrition Health Review, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Gulf War Vets Show Signs of Syndrome


Researchers from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have uncovered damage in a primitive portion of the nervous system of veterans with Gulf War syndrome.

The investigators reported that damage to the parasympathetic nervous system may account for nearly 50 percent of the typical symptoms, including gallbladder disease, unrefreshing sleep, depression, joint pain, chronic diarrhea, and sexual dysfunction, which afflict those with the syndrome. Their findings were published in the October 2004 issue of the American Journal of Medicine (2004; 117:531-532).

"The high rate of gallbladder disease in these men, reported in a previous study, is particularly disturbing because typically women over 40 get this. It's singularly rare in young men," said Dr. Robert Haley, chief of epidemiology at the university and leading author of the new study.

The parasympathetic system regulates primitive, automatic bodily functions such as digestion and sleep, whereas the sympathetic nervous system controls the "fight-or-flight" instinct.

"They're sort of the mirror image of each other--the yin and the yang of the nervous system-that control functions we are not usually aware of. This is another part of the explanation as to why Gulf War syndrome is so elusive and mysterious," said Dr. Haley.

Previously, isolating pure parasympathetic brain function was difficult. In the new study, Dr. Haley and his colleagues used a technique that monitored changes in approximately 100,000 heartbeats over 24 hours and measures changes in high-frequency heart rate variability, a function solely regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system.

After plotting the subtle changes in heart function using a mathematical technique called spectral analysis, researchers found that parasympathetic brain function, which usually peaks during sleep, barely changed in these veterans even though they appeared to be sleeping. …

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