by Jamie Reno
A vitamin supplement available at any drug store appears to help veterans suffering from Gulf War illness alleviate some of their symptoms, results from a new study show.
Researchers said 19 of the most common Gulf War illness symptoms, including headaches, fatigue with exertion, irritability, recall problems and muscle pain, improved after taking the supplement. The study was conducted at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
“We found in our research that there was significant benefit to the veterans’ physical function,” said Beatrice Golomb, professor of medicine at the school and principal investigator on the study. “And that is a huge issue with these veterans, whose physical functions often decline. Some of them used to run 20 miles; now they can’t jog a couple of blocks.”
About 80 percent of veterans with Gulf War illness who took coenzyme Q10 saw improved physical function, and the improvement correlated to higher levels of CoQ10 levels found in the blood, according to research published in Nov. 1 issue of Neural Computation.
“This is not a cure, but we think maybe if we give the Veterans more of a mitochondrial cocktail they will see an even greater benefit,” Golomb told Bergmann & Moore.
There is “clear evidence” linking the symptoms to toxic chemical exposures, such as pesticides or pills given to soldiers to protect them from possible nerve agents, as well as the nerve agent itself, Golomb said.
The chemicals—which are all AChL inhibitors—can damage mitochondria, which generate the energy cells need to do their jobs, Golomb said. Supplements like CoQ10 improve the body’s ability to produce that energy. Researchers used a high-quality brand of CoQ10 sold over-the-counter at drugstores.
Forty-six Gulf War Veterans, each diagnosed with Gulf War illness, participated in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. For three and a half months, the veterans received a pill form of either CoQ10 or a placebo. Researchers found 80 percent of those who received 100 milligrams of CoQ10 had improvement in physical function.
“The statistical significance of these benefits, despite the small sample size, underscores the large magnitude of the effects,” Golomb said.
The research could lead to more discoveries that Golomb said she hopes will benefit Gulf War veterans.
Golomb has been at the forefront of research into ways to treat Gulf War illness, and also serves on the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, which was created by Congress in response to charges that VA was not doing a good job of directing research dollars to understand the illness.
Golomb said she is seeking additional funding for a trial that combines CoQ10 with additional nutrients that support cell energy and reduce oxidative damage to cells. However, she said getting VA to recognize these kinds of studies—and getting the agency to help veterans with GWI—has been an uphill battle.
“VA has taken steps to unilaterally take away the [Gulf War Research Advisory] Committee’s independence, remove the chairman and remove many members,” Golomb said. “VA also made the decision to label on their computer system every veteran deployed to that region since the beginning of the Gulf War in 1990 a ‘Gulf War Veteran.’”
This, she said, makes it difficult to differentiate and track veterans of the recent war in Iraq, whose exposures may include burn pits and toxins in the sand, from the 1991 veterans, whose exposures include industrial-strength pesticides used while doing laundry and small doses of nerve agents given in the anti-nerve agent pills.
Whistle blowers have accused VA of hiding studies that show the links between Gulf War illness and chemical exposures. Former VA epidemiologist Steven Coughlin testified before Congress in 2013 that VA withheld research showing a link between nerve gas and Gulf War illness.
The committee’s chairman, Jim Binns, who was rotated out by VA, said earlier this year that the agency was playing down Gulf War-related illnesses to limit costs and complained in a four-page letter on June 3 to then-acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson that VA was slanting and hiding critical research. VA still has no effective medical treatment for Gulf War Illness, which afflicts as many as 250,000 veterans of the 1990-1991 conflict.