Damaged Mitochondria May Be to Blame for Gulf War Syndrome

By Gemma Tarlach | March 27, 2014 4:00 pm

Gulf War

Doctors have struggled for decades to find a cause for a host of debilitating health problems experienced by veterans of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War. As many as a third of servicemen and women deployed overseas during the conflict have complained of symptoms such as chronic headaches and crippling fatigue.

Much of the most promising recent research, such as a 2013 study on pain processing, has focused on the brain, identifying significant differences between Gulf War syndrome (GWS) sufferers and the general population.

For the first time, however, researchers have now shown that individuals with GWS have impaired cellular components called mitochondria throughout their bodies.

Mitochondria on the Mind

Mitochondria, present in nearly all of our cells, convert energy into useable forms and are involved in both cell division and cell death. Previous research has established that mitochondrial impairment can lead to brain, heart and endocrinal damage, among other serious problems. Mitochondrial damage has been suggested as a potential cause of GWS but never previously proven in individuals diagnosed with the syndrome.

Only 14 participants took part in the study: seven veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome and a control group of seven healthy civilians. Acknowledging the small sample size, the researchers say the results were still significant because GWS and control individuals were matched 1:1 for age, sex and ethnicity.

Delayed Recovery

Scientists used an imaging technique to find a chemical called phosphocreatine (PCr). PCr, which is regulated by mitochondria, is depleted by exercise. When a cell’s mitochondria are impaired, it takes longer for PCr levels to return to normal. Measuring PCr levels has been an accepted way of diagnosing a range of mitochondrial diseases.

Researchers measured PCr levels before, during and after study participants exercised by depressing a foot pedal for five minutes. PCr recovery time for the GWS group was significantly longer than for the control group, with little overlap between groups. In fact, noted researchers, only one outlier member of the control group had a PCr recovery time in the same range as that of the GWS group. While 6 of the 7 control group members had PCr recovery rates of 31 seconds or less, members of the GWS group had PCr recovery rates of 35-70 seconds.

Establishing a link between impaired mitochondrial function and GWS is significant because mitochondrial disease is often difficult to diagnose — an individual’s blood test could appear normal, for example — and because it could cause a broad range of symptoms like GWS is known to do. In addition, many veterans diagnosed with GWS were exposed to chemicals, such as pesticides and nerve gas, that are known to damage mitochondria.

The findings, which appeared today in the open-access online journal PLoS One, could lead both to more accurate diagnosis of GWS and possible therapies.

Photo credit: /Wikimedia Commons

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  • Ronald Parker

    MMMMMMMMMMMMMMmm,it’s caused by either the food or the pot they smoke.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Jonathan Tracey

      Yes, because 86% of all war heroes are also potheads.
      Can you give some evidence of this?
      (On a sidenote, how do I italicize on this.)

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        See the left and right angle brackets, shift-comma and shift-period respectively? Sandwich an i to open italic; sandwich a /i to close it. HTML.

      • Thaddeus J Stockowski

        He can’t because he’s an ignorant troll

    • Patrick Borush

      did you just seriously throw pot and food out there as a cause of this disease? Why dont you do a little research into anything before you open that pie hole of yours about things you know nothing about… So tired of you fox news/republican/anti-poor people spewing your evil and propagandic dibble all over the net already, f-ing fear mongering retards…

  • Greg Macpherson

    GWS sufferers should check out mitochondria-targeted antioxidant MitoQ

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Why trust an enemy to injure and ill US soldiers? Why outsource?

  • Cricket73

    I was told they were getting ALS.

  • Greg Spooner

    …and that mitochondrial damage was likely caused by the overuse of Cipro on these vets. They were given the maximum dose for several weeks while on active duty (lots of physical activity). These fluoroquinolone antibiotics have since been found to permanently damage tendons and nerves.

  • Floxii Vajeene

    CIPRO caused this. Just wait. All will be revealed.

  • FloxieHope

    Dr. Golomb, one of the lead scientists who did the study, is brilliant, and she should have been listened to for the last decade as she has been saying that mitochondrial damage and dysfunction is behind Gulf War Illness. But the powers that be would rather tell 1/3 of the soldiers who were in the Gulf that their problems are “all in their heads.” The arrogance of those who think that Gulf War Illness is some sort of choice is beyond appalling and those who suggested that it was should re-evaluate their character.

    It should be noted that the soldiers in the Gulf were exposed to many mitochondria damaging chemicals, and that diseases related to mitochondrial damage only occurs after the individual’s threshold for damage has been crossed. This threshold feature of mitochondrial injury is noted in Dr. Golomb’s study.

    One of the mitochondria damaging chemicals that many of the soldiers were exposed to is Cipro, a fluoroquinolone antibiotic, that has been shown to damage mitochondria. This poison is also hurting civilians. In case you think it’s safe, take a look at how multi-symptom chronic illnesses have increased in prevalence since Cipro has been marketed like it’s candy. Multi-symptom chronic illness is typical of iatrogenic mitochondrial injury and disease.

    I hope that this study brings the Gulf War Veterans closer to justice. What was done to them is wrong. It is treason and Bayer should pay for it.

    • Lymebuster

      Tetracycline also damages mitochondria for they share similarity with ancient rickettsias. Tick borne and other vector borne pathogens may affect electron transport chain in mito. This damaging of mito might be why lyme and Gulf war illness patients are so similar. Although, the pathogens esp Borrelia compromise the immune system. Intracellular pathogens are also chronic infecting agents.

  • Freda Norris Cobb

    My name is Freda. First of all thank you for giving your life and health to all the ones that served. God Bless all of you. ((Cross over)) I did not serve. If I could have, I would have. ButI became a correction officer with the Bureau of Prisons in 1991. In 1994 in a small rural community the government decided to expand the prisons Unicor facilities into a recycling facilities for dismantling government material of all sorts. Computers and materials that was use in the wars such as Vietnam War, Gulf war, Desert Storm. All this material was nevertheless decontaminated. All the director s of this agency “Wilfully and Knowingly” in 1994 was aware that the recycling programs were not nor ever in non-compliance with OSHA and EPA regulator guidelines. Nor was there storage protection signs ever put in place. The failure to Act upon Bureau staff, staff families ((women and children)) and inmates workers, truck drivers, street purchase ers. Being exposed to this toxic chemicals in the materials sent from all different agency’s DOD , Filtration of all toxicity dust from where it had been and than also computer dust out of the CRTs that was busted with hammer s. Cross contamination. Agent Orange, radiation dust off of the material that we ended up getting and therefore taken the materials apart. Now we are dealing with the same effects of this Gulf war, Vietnam agent orange, desert storm materials. Two doctors has diagnosed me with bain cell damage. Many staff has died to early,inmates and loved ones. Truck drivers the list goes on. There is major truth in this article. I just wish there was somehelp for us. IInstead of the oval Office sweeping all this evidence under the rug., and the lieing Executive staff stop lying and cover ing up the truth.


    100% ‘undiagnosed’ Ehlers Danlos Syndrome type(s) a Genetic gene mutation from either or both Parents a Glue deficiency Protein called Collagen with Mast Cell Activation disorder plus Syncope and/or P.O.T.S. the MRI Supine is useless they need upright/standing MRI Brain/Spine chiari, stenosis, scoliosis, thethered spinal chords, compressions etc etc…Some can have multiple types called crossovers of EDS

  • Sonny David

    Interesting article . BTW , people are searching for a GA Contract of Sale & Purchase of Real Estate , my husband saw a fillable form here http://goo.gl/4eYsy8


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