Hey! Guess what? New research suggests that going to war is bad for your brain.
At the 47th annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience 2017, Deborah Whitmer, commander of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research chaired a press conference called “How Military Service Changes the Brain.” Here are some of the highlights.
Blast Exposure - Soldiers are exposed to multiple blast exposures not only in war zones, but also during training. Even though many of these blasts are mild the exposures add up over time. Alaa Kamnaksh, a researcher at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences says that” Repeated mild blast exposure can permanently change the brain’s structural organization, resulting in lasting functional and behavioral consequences.” That’s not good. Kamnaksh hopes that future research will lead to better forms of treatment.
Gulf War Syndrome – Nearly 30% of veterans (250,000 people) who served in Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War suffer from Gulf War Illness of Gulf War Syndrome. This mysterious set of symptoms includes mood swings, chronic pain, difficulties with language and complex motor tasks, inability to concentrate, and loss of memory. That’s not good. The common denominator is damage to the brain. Kaundinya Gopinath, a researcher at Emory University says that ongoing research “may be helpful in helping us find a way to treat this illness.”
Statin Exposure – Sarin gas, which was used as a chemical weapon during the Gulf War, is a volatile nerve agent. Exposure to nerve agents like sarin can result in vast neurological impairments. Definitely not good! Ankita Patel, a researcher at the Drexel School of Medicine is doing work to pinpoint compounds that might reverse these neurological impairments.
Wait a minute. All of this research is devoted to limiting the damage done by the ravages of war. Here’s a radical idea. Rather than treat the symptoms let’s eliminate the cause of all this pain and suffering. Let’s not send our brothers and sisters out to kill each other.
Just a thought.
A number of studies on stress were introduced at The Society of Neuroscience Conference in 2017.
Sins of The Father – Jennifer Chan, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania reported on several studies that found that a father’s lifetime experience have a measurable effect on the development and health of future offspring. Environmental factors experienced by the father create epigenetic markers that reprogram his sperm. These defects in the father’s reproductive tract then get passed along to the offspring.
Childhood Trauma – Survivors of childhood trauma have a much greater risk of developing mental and physical health issues in adulthood. According to Briana Mulligan, a researcher at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, “Long-term stress conditions can alter the DNA methylation profile of brain regions that regulate hormonal, immunological and neural genes.” Again, epigenetic changes are the mechanism of change.
Neurogenesis and Stress – Christoph Anacker, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, reported that genetically modified mice responded differently to stress depending upon how many new cells we found in their hippocampus. Mice with fewer new cells experienced more stress. Those with more new cells in the hippocampus had a lower stress level. So, of course, researchers are looking for new medications that will help increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus. I guess they forgot that physical exercise stimulates hippocampal neurogenesis. No need for expensive medications with possible side effects.