What is Gulf War Illness (GWI)?
Approximately 25-32% of Veterans of Operation Desert Storm – the 1991 Gulf War – returned home suffering from a disorder characterized by symptoms that affect multiple bodily systems including fatigue, headaches, cognitive dysfunction, musculoskeletal pain, respiratory disorders, and skin rashes . Initially referred to as Gulf War Syndrome, Gulf War illness (GWI) is the term now used to describe this disorder. GWI affects approximately 200,000 U.S. veterans.
Symptoms of Gulf War Illness may include :
- Chronic fatigue
- Skin rashes
- Cognitive impairment
- GI discomfort
Deployed Veterans of the 1991 Gulf War have also been shown to be more likely to suffer symptoms consistent with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) as non-deployed veterans .
How is Gulf War Illness Linked to Mitochondrial Dysfunction?
Gulf War veterans were exposed to many chemicals in the theater that are toxic to the nervous system. Some of these, such as organophosphates (OPs), can be toxic to mitochondria, producing symptoms such as fatigue, brain dysfunction, muscle, diseases, sleep disturbance and autonomic dysfunction, all symptoms that are seen in GWI.
When a sustained period of psychological stress is combined with exposure to toxins, a build up of oxidative stress within the mitochondria throughout the body may severely disrupt cellular energy production.
Many links have been identified between GWI and mitochondrial dysfunction. It is currently the most likely explanation for the far-reaching symptomatology experienced by patients with GWI.
References:  Bunker, J., White, R., Steele, L., O’Callaghan, J., Sullivan, K., & Binns, J. (2015). Recent research on Gulf War illness and other health problems in veterans of the 1991 Gulf War: Effects of toxicant exposures during deployment. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior.
 Zundel, C. G., Krengel, M. H., Heeren, T., Yee, M. K., Grasso, C. M., Janulewicz Lloyd, P. A., Coughlin, S. S., & Sullivan, K. (2019, March 16). Rates of chronic medical conditions in 1991 Gulf War veterans compared to the general population. International journal of environmental research and public health.