Researchers Believe They Have Found Cause Of Gulf War Illness
GULF WAR SYNDROME - Researchers believe that they have finally found the cause of Gulf War illness that made around 250,000 U.S. troops sick after almost 30 years of attempting to find the answer: Sarin nerve gas, according to Dr. Robert Haley.
A third of those deployed to Iraq during the Gulf War between 1990 and 1991 reported symptoms that could not be explained, including fatigue, rashes, gastrointestinal and digestive issues, brain fog, neuropathy and pain in the muscles and joints.
For years, the federal government dismissed the idea that the symptoms might be related to exposure to chemical agents in Iraq. Many vets were even sent to psychiatrists for mental health treatment rather than their illness being directly treated or taken seriously.
A study, however released last week by the journal Environmental Health Perspectives combined genetic research with data from surveys and found that United States service members that had been exposed to sarin gas were more likely to develop Gulf War Illness.
The study also found that those that had been exposed to it and also had a weaker variant of a gene that aids in digesting pesticides were 9 times more likely to develop symptoms of Gulf War Illness.
Haley, who is a director of the Division of Epidemiology in the Internal Medicine Department at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said, "Quite simply, our findings prove that Gulf War illness was caused by sarin, which was released when we bombed Iraqi chemical weapons storage and production facilities".
"There are still more than 100,000 Gulf War veterans who are not getting help for this illness and our hope is that these findings will accelerate the search for better treatment" Haley stated.
Sarin was originally developed in 1938 in Germany as a pesticide by accident by a scientist who at the time was trying to kill bugs. It is a colorless and odorless liquid in its purest form but can evaporate into vapor, turning it into a deadly gas.
Once in gas form, sarin (NATO designation GB) turns into a highly toxic and highly deadly nerve agent that is extremely lethal even at low doses. Direct inhalation of the gas can cause death within one to ten minutes due to suffocation from respiratory paralysis.
Haley and his team chose 1,116 vets who had taken a U.S. Military Health Survey, 508 vets who had been deployed and developed symptoms of Gulf War Illness, and 508 vets who were deployed but never developed any symptoms at all.
Blood samples of each were taken and they were all asked if they had heard nerve gas alarms while they had been deployed to Iraq. If they were, they were asked how often they heard them. Each person was also tested for PON1, a gene that aids in metabolizing pesticides.
According to the results of the study, those who had reported that they heard nerve agent alarms and who had the weaker variant of the PON1 gene were nine times more likely to develop Gulf War Illness.
Those that had a mixture of the two PON1 gene variants were over 4 times more likely to develop the illness, while those who had just heard the nerve agent alarms also were four times more likely, but to a lesser degree than those with the mixture of the two variants.
The researchers concluded that the data "leads to a high degree of confidence that sarin is a causative agent for Gulf War Illness".
Haley told Military.com that "Our hypothesis was, if you have the strong form of the gene, then when you're exposed to low-level sarin, that gene makes a strong isoenzyme that destroys sarin in your blood. If you have the weak form of the gene, the enzyme that it makes is not very strong, so it goes through your blood into your brain and you get sick".
"You've heard the expression 'correlation does not equal causation,' right? That's true, unless you are dealing with a gene-environment interaction".
The study from the Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) can be found here: https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/EHP9009