By Robert Huntington

The cause of Gulf War Illness, according to the United States Government, is stress. This is the cause of most problems our government wants to sweep under the rug. But researchers still believe that proof is needed, fortunately for all those who suffer from maladies for which our government does not have an answer at the ready. A June 1999 article in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology has the chief of epidemiology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center writing on why some Gulf War veterans got sick while others remained healthy. "One of the biggest questions about Gulf War Syndrome has been why one person got sick when the person next to him didn’t. That is one of the major puzzles that made many people think the symptoms were just due to stress," said lead researcher Dr. Robert Haley. The puzzle was unraveled when genetic differences were found.  "This genetic difference links the illness to damage from certain chemicals." The study, done with collaboration from the University of Michigan Medical School, found that those with a specific gene were found to produce more enzymes after they were exposed to chemicals and stayed well. Those who produced lower amounts of this enzyme became ill. The enzyme is from the gene that controls production of type Q paraoxonase (PON-Q), which destroys chemical toxins. In people who produce only low levels of this enzyme, fighting off the toxins cannot be done correctly.

Earlier studies had found strong statistical links of exposure and the level of PON-Q, and these results were thought to be correlated. This new study has proven their predictions by locating a genetic marker.  Haley had previously published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (1997) that veterans suffered brain damage from chemical combinations.  They had linked three neurological syndromes to the use of an insect repellent, a pesticide-containing flea collar, and the anti-nerve gas tablets in addition to exposure to low-level chemical nerve agents. The newly published paper used the same men studied in the 1997 study.

In May, the Pentagon again asserted that GWI was caused by stress, yet this paper, published the very next month, was funded by the Department of Defense along with the Perot foundation! Earlier in May, other researchers reported that the chemicals themselves may have caused a genetic reshuffling which resulted in  upregulating the immune system to cause the symptoms found in GWI. Their proof was the RNA that was found in the blood serum of Gulf War veterans (serum is liquid that carries blood cells) after it was believed that RNA could not survive outside a cell or virus. In their healthy control group, no RNA was found in the serum.

Howard Urnovitz, from the nonprofit Chronic Illness Research Foundation as well as from Calypte Biomedical Corp. thinks this theory could explain other chronic illnesses including multiple sclerosis and Myalgic Encephalopathy.  He believes that even some types of cancer can be the result of this RNA and what the cell does with it. "If it reverses it to DNA, and places it near an oncogene (a gene that causes cancer), cancer can start. If the new RNA makes a protein that the body has never seen before, this (leads to) auto-immunity — multiple sclerosis, lupus, diabetes, and possibly chronic fatigue syndrome.  If the RNA travels from the seminal fluid to the ovum (the egg), this may result in birth defects," said Urnovitz in a May 4th Reuter’s report on CNN. The study does not show  specific chemicals that led to genetic changes, but it does suggest a common mechanism rather than a causative agent for these illnesses. Whether one of both of these research teams prove to have the answer, it seems more than apparent that "stress" is not a causative agent but may well be a symptom from the illnesses produced. Indeed, the stress may very well be magnified by our government’s  insistence to trivialize illnesses for which it does not have pat answers.

The National CFIDS Foundation * 103 Aletha Rd, Needham Ma 02492 * (781) 449-3535 Fax (781) 449-8606