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Gulf War illness found to have a mitochondrial basis

After fourteen years of study, researchers led by Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego have determined that Gulf War illness is the result of a mitochondrial dysfunction according to a March 27, 2014, report in the journal Public Library of Science.

Models of chemical exposure during the Persian Gulf War.
Stan Ison As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

The researchers used 31-phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy to examine the levels of phosphorous containing compounds at the cellular level in Persian Gulf War veterans that had Gulf War illness and those who did not.

The researchers found that veterans that had Gulf War illness demonstrated a slower rate of recovery of phosphocreatine after exercise. Recovery of normal post-exercise phosphocreatine levels in veterans that had Gulf War illness took almost twice as long as veterans that did not have Gulf War illness.

This discovery is the first indication that Gulf War illness is the result of a mitochondrial dysfunction. The initiation of the disease may have been chemically induced or stress related but the mitochondrial energy production link explains the fatigue, cognitive challenges, muscle problems, exercise intolerance, neurological disorders, and gastrointestinal problems common in veterans that have Gulf War illness.

Exposure to acetylcholinesterase inhibitors in nerve gas, nerve gas pills given to troops, and pesticide is considered to be the cause of the mutation that produced Gulf War illness by the researchers.

The discovery offers minimal hope for new treatments at this time although some nanoparticle techniques may show promise in the future. The rearrangement of every mitochondria in every cell of the body is beyond present medical technology.