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Study reverses course on Gulf War illnesses

Panel recommends spending $60 million on more studies

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Parting company with the findings of a Clinton administration panel on Gulf War illnesses, a new study concludes more must be learned about the effects of toxic substances on those who fought there.

The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness urges that up to $60 million be spent over the next four years to monitor and research the health of Gulf War veterans and their children.

In so doing, the panel distanced itself from the earlier body that attributed a series of mysterious ailments to stress under conditions of warfare. Scientists are coming close to finding a treatment, the panel said in its report, but it also said researchers need substantially more government financial assistance.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report in advance of its expected release Friday by Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi.

The review committee that Principi formed concluded that "the goal of understanding and treating Gulf War veterans' illnesses is within reach" because of recent research breakthroughs.

But federal research is falling short in large part because studies have not asked important questions and continue to focus on stress to explain the veterans' problems.

"Additional progress in addressing Gulf War veterans' illnesses is not likely to come from a haphazard mix of studies," the panel said.

Department officials declined comment before the review was made public.

Hundreds of thousands of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War have experienced undiagnosed illnesses they believe are linked to the war, according to Congress' auditing arm. These ailments include chronic fatigue, loss of muscle control, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory problems and loss of balance.

Principi's panel found that more recent studies suggest the veterans' illnesses are neurological and apparently are linked to exposure to neurotoxins such as the nerve gas sarin, the anti-nerve gas drug pyridostigmine bromide and pesticides that affect the nervous system.

"Research studies conducted since the war have consistently indicated that psychiatric illness, combat experience or other deployment-related stressors do not explain Gulf War veterans illnesses in the large majority of ill veterans," the review committee said.

The Pentagon has estimated that about 100,000 soldiers were exposed to nerve gas when Iraqi weapons caches were destroyed, although congressional auditors have questioned the Defense Department's estimates. The Pentagon also has said some soldiers may have been overexposed to pesticides.

The committee said the VA should allocate $15 million in each of the next four years for a Gulf War illness research program.

Principi had announced in 2002 that $20 million would be available for research this year. But during the summer, the panel found that little of that had been spent and some of what was went to studies investigating stress-related causes.

Recent research "makes it a very reasonable possibility that this Gulf War illness is not attributable simply to stress of troops that were deployed," said Paul Greengard, who won the Nobel Prize for work discovering the brain mechanisms involved in Parkinson's disease, a nerve disorder.

Greengard is the founder of Intracellular Therapies, which looks for treatments for central nervous system disorders. He said the company recently began investigating how nerve agents damage the brain.

Greengard has done preliminary work funded by the Army that would apply the research methods he used to investigate Parkinson's to study Gulf War illnesses.

"I think any reasonable person can no longer exclude the possibility that our military personnel deployed in Gulf War I were exposed to toxic chemicals that have produced this very high incidence of illnesses," Greengard said.

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Thursday, 25 May, 2000

Chemical cocktail 'made Gulf troops ill'

Many who served in 1991 are convinced GWS exists

By environment correspondent Alex Kirby, BBC News

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A US scientist has found evidence that suggests the combination of chemicals administered to Gulf War troops may have made them ill. The scientist, Professor Mohamed Abou-Donia of Duke University, North Carolina, says he will soon prove that "the cocktail effect of chemicals" causes real physical damage. There is no doubt in my mind that what we are seeing in the veterans is real.

His work appears to show that Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), the range of symptoms experienced by many Gulf veterans, really does exist and is not largely psychological. The news comes as other research is published showing that the brain scans of Gulf veterans reveal significant brain-cell loss in some troops. Professor Abou-Donia also says the effect of chemicals acting in combination may explain some cases of degenerative disease and asthma.

Fatal experiments

He was speaking to BBC Radio 4's environment programme Costing the Earth, which investigated the effect of chemicals in daily life. Professor Abou-Donia tested the three chemicals administered to troops in the Gulf on chickens and rats. The chemicals were anti-nerve gas pills, an insect repellent called Deet, and Permethrin, an insecticide. All three are entirely harmless on their own. He described what the experiments showed: "We used each one of these chemicals alone, even at very high dose levels. "We found there was no toxicity whatsoever, no poisoning, no damage.

"When we used two of these chemicals together, we saw some neurological dysfunctions and some behavioural problems. "When we had the three chemicals together, we saw not only a neurological deficit but paralysis, and some animals even died." Professor Abou-Donia is convinced of the reality of GWS, whose symptoms typically include chronic fatigue, infertility, and mental health problems, despite continued military skepticism that it exists.

Protein leak

"There is no doubt in my mind that what we are seeing in the veterans is real. "We are trying to develop the diagnostic tools to determine whether there is neurological damage in the veterans by running a blood test. "We look for specific antibodies produced against proteins that are normally in the brain. When there is brain damage, these proteins leak into the blood stream and the blood forms antibodies against them. "This test will hopefully show whether an individual complaining of neurological problems has brain damage or not."

Professor Abou-Donia believes it is not only Gulf veterans who are at risk from the effects of similar "chemical cocktails". "In the US about 3% of children have asthma. And this could be related to chemical exposure or other biological factors. "And most diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's have a genetic component, and also an environmental component."

Groups at risk

Another doctor interviewed by the programme is Keith Eaton, who practices in London. He is concerned at the paucity of data on chemicals in everyday use. "Staggeringly, 64% of drugs, 81% of food additives and 88-90% of commercial chemicals do not have minimum acceptable toxicity data individually. "Virtually none has been looked at acting in combination with another chemical. "I think this is a giant uncontrolled experiment with mankind." Dr Eaton believes from 5% to 10% of people in the UK may be at particular risk of illness from the effect of combinations of common chemicals and their genetic make-up.

"The particularly vulnerable groups are pregnant women, unborn children and young infants. "If they are exposed to a chemical load, the effect on the next generation may be greater. "The fact that something hasn't happened so far doesn't mean that it necessarily won't."

'No convincing evidence'

The UK Government's health department told Costing the Earth it recognised that mixtures of chemicals could exert "very much greater toxicity" than they would in isolation. "But such cases are very rare. There is no convincing evidence for such effects at low, environmentally relevant exposures," it said. The evidence of brain-cell loss, published in the journal Radiology, found that sick Gulf veterans had 20% fewer cells in the brain stem than healthy colleagues, 12% fewer in the right basal ganglia, and a loss of 5% in the left basal ganglia. The study's lead author, Dr Robert Haley, said: "When you sustain such losses, you get a host of subtle malfunctions of all systems of the body."

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November 30th, 1999

Gulf War, Brain Damage Linked

By BRENDA C. COLEMAN AP Medical Writer

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CHICAGO (AP) - Brain scans of soldiers who believe they suffer from Gulf War illness suggest they have brain damage, possibly from chemicals they were exposed to during the conflict, researchers reported Tuesday.

The researchers said veterans who report symptoms of the illness had lower levels of a certain brain chemical than healthy veterans of the 1991 conflict.`` This is the first time ever we have proof of brain damage in sick Gulf War veterans,'' said the lead researcher, Dr. James L. Fleckenstein, professor of radiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.`` They can be believed - they're not malingering, they're not depressed, they're not stressed. There's a hope for treatment and there's hope for being able to monitor the progress of the disease.''

A Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, said he looked forward to examining the research. ``I hope he's right'' that chemical exposure is the answer, Quigley said. ``We need to take a look at it.''

The researchers reported that magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which measures body chemistry, revealed that veterans who believe they have the illness have lower-than-normal levels of a chemical, N-acetyl-aspartate, in the brain stem and basal ganglia. That suggests a loss of neurons in those areas, said the researchers, who presented the findings at the 85th annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

The brain stem controls some of the body's reflexes, and the basal ganglia are switching stations for nerve impulses controlling movement, memory and emotion. The basal ganglia, for example, are where the malfunctioning occurs that causes Parkinson's disease.

In the study, brain scans of 22 sick veterans revealed levels of N-acetyl-aspartate 10 percent to 25 percent lower than those in 18 healthy veterans, Fleckenstein said. The finding held up in an additional six sick Gulf War veterans drawn from a different part of the military, he said. The study was blinded, meaning radiologists interpreting the results did not know which patients were complaining of symptoms and which were healthy.

Researchers believe that soldiers who became ill were those who had a genetic vulnerability to certain chemicals that they were exposed to during the war, including nerve gas, the insecticide DEET, pet flea collars some wore to repel pests and the drug pyridostigmine bromide. PB was administered to as many as 250,000 soldiers in the belief it would protect them from the toxic effects of nerve gas. When toxins of the same type are given to animals, studies show, similar abnormalities in the same regions of the brain resulted, Fleckenstein said.

Last month, the Pentagon raised the possibility for the first time of a connection between Gulf War illness and PB. It said more scientific study is needed before it can either confirm a connection or rule it out. The new findings did not surprise Charles Townsend, 49, one of the study's subjects. He served as an airborne sergeant with the Army's 50th Signal Battalion during the war and now can reel off a list of his symptoms, including ulcers in his sinus cavities and colon, swollen lymph nodes, rashes, severe headaches and bleeding gums.

``You forget where you're going, you don't remember a word you want to speak as you're preparing to speak it. It interrupts the train of thought,'' he said. Townsend said he has been called a liar by Veterans Administration doctors, but he is convinced his problems stem from exposure to chemicals during the war. Townsend, who is on full disability because of his illness, said he is unsure of what practical effect the study will have. ``My problem is the politics of it,'' he said. ``When is this going to filter down to a single doctor in the Dallas V.A.?''

Fleckenstein said treatments are being explored by his colleague Dr. Robert W. Haley, chief of epidemiology at UT Southwestern. Haley helped define Gulf War syndromes and identify toxic exposures associated with the likelihood of having them. He also revealed enzyme abnormalities that may be part of a biological basis for the disease.

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January 1st, 1996

VA Doctor Uncovers New Medical Theory

By T. J Moriarity

PERSIAN GULF ILLNESS: IS IT ALL JUST "IN THEIR HEADS?" NEW REPORT SHOWS EVIDENCE OF BRAIN STEM ENCEPHALITIS IN GULF WAR VETERANS BY: TJ MORIARTY (OLNews@aol.com)

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Many Persian Gulf War veterans are apparently suffering from a chronic form of brain stem encephalitis-a brain stem encephalopathy, not PTSD, according to a promising new study by William F. Baumzweiger, MD. "I'm very familiar with PTSD patients and their symptoms. These veterans have too many conditions to be suffering from PTSD." A combination of exposures to bio-hazards in the Gulf and multiple vaccinations are a few of the core ingredients of potential causes in his examinations.

What is brain stem encephalitis?

Brain stem encephalitis is an inflammatory disturbance of the brains central control mechanisms--more commonly referred to as an organic brain disorder. It is frequently caused by brain tumors, radiation to the head, use of chemotherapy agents for cancer and most importantly for this study of Persian Gulf Patients--the exposure to toxins and multiple vaccinations. Increasingly these effects are cumulative, that is the more one is exposed to the source, the more the effects are seen.

Brain stem encephalitis is a well known and not uncommon illness while brain stem encephalopathy is distinctly less common, but it appears to Dr. Baumzweiger to be a new syndrome. An abnormality in blood pressure regulation is one of the central tenets to his research--also focus of another study relating to chronic fatigue syndrome published recently in the Journal of American Medical Association. He says the symptoms have a subtlety that can be easily overlooked or mistakenly identified as being purely psychiatric in nature. Diagnoses of PTSD or general depression are most commonly recorded. For many of the Persian Gulf War veterans I've personally spoken with as a reporter, this evidence is bittersweet news--a blend of relief and fear. Relief that their medical complaints are being scientifically verified by some doctors, coupled with fear of what this medical news could mean to their lives.

Veteran Debbie Judd, a former nurse on the front line in the Gulf says she's "tired of hearing it's all in my head and that I'm not sick. Many of us are very sick." Debbie heads the Northern Carolina Association of Gulf vets. "The VA keeps sending me to the counseling clinics for my symptoms." "I'm not depressed, I'm ill," says Dean Lundholm, an Army veteran from Santa Cruz. Dean says he suffered a "chemically induced coma" for three days while serving in the Gulf. "Something happened over there to all of us--some more than others--because of exposure to dangerous and unknown chemicals." Baumzweiger indicates what he calls "significant evidence" of immune dysregulation in the central nervous system of affected vets.

"They seem to be suffering from heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature abnormalities. These can in turn be related to a chronic immune disorder in the brain." He has linked these symptoms to a cytokine, "Interlukin 2," which he says erases the long standing and much cherished line between neurological and psychiatric disease. In other words, their problems are "just in their heads" but medically, not emotionally.

At the Wadsworth VA in West LA, Dr. Baumzweiger, a Psychiatrist and a Neurologist, studied the medical, psychiatric, neurological, neurobehavioral, laboratory and MRI results of ten Gulf War veterans. These particular veterans were referred to him because they were diagnosed as having symptoms relating to their combat experience--suggesting emotional problems.

Here are a number of ways in which brain stem encephalitis can be brought on: closed head trauma, epilepsy, viral infections of the central nervous system, toxic environmental exposures, reactions to a number of medications, sometimes even by severe stress. Flagyl, a common antibiotic, can have toxic effects in predisposed patients in causing encephalitis.

Obviously, these potential causes add up to a number of patients , military and non- military who may suffer this malady around the world. In cases of Gulf War Personnel though, there is a more specific progression according to Baumzweiger.

In his findings, he also deals with the possible "triggers" for encephalitis in Persian Gulf veterans--with intriguing hypotheses related to chemical exposure. There are two widely published, but unconfirmed reports that many persons, Allied and Iraqi, in the area of the Gulf were exposed to at least low levels of chemical warfare agents, toxins, or even perhaps radiation during the 1991 conflict.

It is no secret, if one believes the hundreds of reports by enlisted personnel and media accounts, that chemical and radiation detectors were "sounding off" registering the presence of chemical warfare or "poison gas", but soldiers were categorically told to disregard them. Baumzweiger, quoting the work of James Tuite that hundreds of tons of neurotoxins and bacterial toxins were forward positioned in the Gulf, on SCUD missiles and hand held rocket launchers that were fired into Israel and Saudi Arabia. "The Czechoslovakians documented the presence of a nerve gas, Sarin, in the area.

There is good evidence that the attacks by the US Air Force on Iraqi gas production facilities released large quantities of poison gas, and good evidence that released gas would have been blown by the winds into the theater of operations for all the combatants," says Tuite. Basically, some of the most hazardous toxins known to man such as the known mutagen dimethylhydrazine (DMII) and Di-Iso-Flouro-Phosphate (DFP).

"When we talk about the Persian Gulf War, and everything that has evolved from it, we are talking about one of the strangest wars in history. It was bizarre in so many ways. We lost, according to most reports, a minute number of men to combat inflicted injury. Despite excellent medical care and extreme precaution against biological and chemical attack, large numbers of American GI's developed acute unexplained symptoms, and have gone on to develop what appears to be one or more chronic and debilitating disorders."

His clinical evidence states that the symptoms associated with Persian Gulf illness appear to be caused by abnormalities in the hypothalamus portion of the brain, which controls many bodily functions. When the hypothalamus malfunctions patients can experience chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, peripheral neuropathy, arthritic esthesiopathy, chronic diarrhea and bloating, and respiratory problems.

"In terms of neuropsychiatric phenomena they have memory problems decreased cognitive ability, agitation, compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts, vulnerability to mental destabilization and a generally minimal stress tolerance. In my own experience they have subtle but consistent neurological problems like clumsiness, visual disturbance and attention difficulties."

What tends to disguise a correct diagnosis, Baumzweiger says, is that Persian Gulf veterans have "a mixture of symptoms that reflect classic organic mental disorder and classic elements of functional thought. At times they appear quite like PTSD or borderline personality." Interestingly, 5 of his patients also tested positive for "Epstein Barr", a sign of what is now known as a trigger for endogenous retroviral activation. Human endogenous retroviruses, or HERV's, can be activated by a number of factors. Studies are now emerging that show when HERV's are activated, the immune system can become imbalanced. It is believed by some that controlling HERV's may lead to more effective management of chronic diseases such as Gulf War Related illness and AIDS.

Baumzweiger says that key to understanding the full story of Persian Gulf Illness is to understand that neuroimmune, neuroendocrine, and autonomic systems that have all been affected, and to understand how they have been affected which he intrinsically details in volumes of research literature.

A series of laboratory and examination results on vital statistics point to several common indicators: Patients all have a significant increase in blood pressure upon either getting up or lying down, depending on the individuals case. They all have a significant increase in heart rate on standing up. Ten out of the fifteen had hypotension, a fall in blood pressure when standing up while two had an increase in blood pressure when standing up. They had unstable body temperature when they were experiencing their symptoms most severely.

Can Persian Gulf Illness cause death?

He brings up a very controversial point. However, one of Dr. Baumzweiger's patients, after spending ten hours out in the sun recreationally, collapsed and nearly died of respiratory failure. After extensive testing, Baumzweiger came to the conclusion that dysregulation of normal bodily function, such as sleeping, body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, etc., in theses cases is disturbed with exposure to the sun. "This dysregulation of bodily functions, sleep patterns and hormonal patterning would involve the hypothalamus, which controls all these functions."

At present, little can be done medically so in the mean time he says, it is very important for any symptomatic veteran who has been exposed to the environment in the Persian Gulf to: Avoid exposure to heat and to excessive light, especially sunlight. Sunscreens will probably not help protect against an exacerbation of symptoms. Get as much sleep as possible, preferably more than eight hours a night. If you have definite symptoms of PGS it is probably best not to give blood, to use safe sex techniques with significant others until more is known about the potential transmittability if the "illness."

Baumzweiger summarizes what he calls a disruption of three basic mechanisms seen in Persian Gulf Illness; a calcium channel disorder, a disorder of CNS Lymphocyte development, and a problem with reactivation of latent retroviruses.

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May 25, 2000

Scan finds brain damage in sick Gulf war vets

By MICHAEL SMITH, UPI Science news

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DALLAS, Texas, May 25 (UPI) -- Gulf War veterans who returned sick from the conflict show signs of significant damage in three regions of the brain, a new study shows.

Epidemiologist Robert Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said brain scans of veterans show loss of cells or cellular function in the left and right basal ganglia and the brain stem. The basal ganglia are walnut-sized structures on either side of the brain stem, the connection between the brain and the spinal cord. All three structures are involved in memory, emotions and usually-automatic processes such as balance and muscle control. Haley said the damage, which is similar to that seen in the early stages of Huntingdon's and Parkinson's disease, may have been caused by low-level exposure to the nerve gas sarin. The research is published in the June issue of the journal Radiology.

A defense department spokesman called the study "very important." But physician Michael Kilpatrick of the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses said Haley's "test itself does not say what has caused the brain damage." Haley used a sensitive test, called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), to test 40 members of a Naval Reserve construction battalion, commonly known as the Seabees. Twenty-two of the Seabees were ill with Gulf War Syndrome, and 18 were healthy, although the investigators doing the tests didn't know which was which.

The MRS test gives a readout of the chemical composition of the area under study, Haley said. Haley and his colleagues were looking for a chemical known as N-acetyl-aspartate, or NAA, which is produced only by healthy brain cells. "What we found is that it was 25 percent lower in the sick guys in these three brain regions than in the well guys," he said. "These guys actually have abnormal brain cells in the basal ganglia and brain stem." Haley said the finding may mean 25 percent of the cells are dead or many of them are functioning at lower than normal levels.

Researchers break Gulf War Syndrome into three variants, he said. Of the three, Gulf War Syndrome II is most serious, causing memory failures, confusion, balance disturbance and severe fatigue. Syndrome I causes reasoning impairment, sleep disorders and depression, Haley said, while Syndrome III causes pain in the joints and muscles, even though the joints and muscles are normal.

Brain damage varied among those with the three syndromes, Haley said, with only the Syndrome II patients having severe damage to all three areas. Earlier work, he said, had shown that the sick Seabees had lower than normal levels of an enzyme, called paraoxanase, which protects against the nerve gas sarin. "This suggested that sarin was the actual cause of the disease," Haley said.

The difficulty with that theory, Kilpatrick said, is that there's no evidence the Seabees were ever exposed to sarin. The only documented sarin exposure was in Iraq, at a place called Khamisiyah, he said, while the Seabees were stationed at Aljubayl, on the east coast of Saudi Arabia. "I think it's very important to keep minds open about the cause, because (Haley's) test does not show the cause," Kilpatrick said. Kilpatrick said the study needs to be repeated, with larger numbers. "What (Haley) has really done has opened the door for further research," he said.

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WOW, kind of blows your mind.

I have always found the gulf war syndrome interesting vs dysautonomia. When I first became sick and was researching, I couldn't help but see the similarities in these two. When I wrote my first paper over 2 years ago to some of the prime time shows I mentioned both illnesses.

I recently posted these because I found another GWS paper and read some of their symptoms and it matched many that people complain of here. I just wanted to put it out there again.

There are 2 articles I have saved on my computer somewhere that I would like to find and post in this category. One was written by a VA research doctor. He was saying how he didn't believe to much in GWS until he came down with it and he didn't even go to the Gulf. He also stated how service men were bringing it home to their spouses.

The other paper was written about similarities in GWS but back 100 years of war. Stating how men would get sick out on the field and be put into compression suits or ignored all together. There symptoms continued to increase with the decades. And this paper listed off every war and experiences that the military personnel had with their illness, i.e. irritable heart or soldier's heart.

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