Modeling Gulf War illness: Knowing the cause of brain dysfunction is key to finding a cure

When hundreds of thousands of American troops deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1990 and 1991 in what is now called the First Gulf War, they were exposed to a variety of chemicals. These chemicals — especially when coupled with war-related stress — seem to still be affecting nearly 200,000 Gulf War veterans — or 25 to 32 percent of those who served — more than 25 years later, and the constellation of resulting symptoms has been termed Gulf War illness (GWI). This condition is characterized by central nervous system impairments — including cognitive and memory problems, mood dysfunction, sleep disorders and chronic fatigue — and systemic symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems and hypersensitive skin.

Using an animal model of GWI, researchers at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System were able to demonstrate how GWI occurs, and their findings, which were published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, hint at possible ways to mitigate some of the symptoms. This work was supported by grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense and from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.

The chemicals troops were exposed to in the Persian Gulf included pyridostigmine bromide, which was used as prophylaxis to prevent death in an attack with nerve gas agents. In addition, mosquito repellants, such as DEET, and pesticides, such as permethrin, were sprayed on their clothes and tents to keep potentially disease-carrying insects and rodents at bay. Some troops were also likely exposed to low levels of chemical warfare agents, due to demolition of Iraqi facilities storing those agents, and smoke from oil well fires.

Chemicals like DEET and permethrin can enter the brain through disruption of the blood-brain barrier, where they can inhibit the breakdown of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. “Essentially, they cause acetylcholine to build up in the brain, causing hyperexcitability of neurons as well as the death of some neurons, which leads to inflammation in the brain,” said Ashok K. Shetty, PhD, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, associate director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, research career scientist at the Olin E. Teague Veterans Medical Center, Central Texas Veterans Health Care System and senior author of the paper. “At the same time, troops were also taking pyridostigmine bromide, which can sequester the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, compounding the problem.”

To test the effects of such exposure, the researchers must first create an animal model. “We simulate what happened during the war,” Shetty said. “We give pyridostigmine bromide orally and apply DEET and permethrin dermally, and then expose them to a mild stressor. When you do that, these animal models develop the symptoms of GWI, such as cognitive and memory problems, and have chronic low-level inflammation in the brain.” Six months later — which is about 17 years in human terms — there was still evidence of persistent oxidative stress, even though they hadn’t been exposed to either chemicals or stress in the interim.

“Our data in animal models matches very well with what has been seen in patients,” Shetty said. They both had considerable systemic inflammation, which can be measured by levels of multiple pro-inflammatory cytokines in the blood serum. Pro-inflammatory cytokines circulate all over the body and cause systemic inflammation, which, in turn, can cause considerable problems in certain vulnerable regions of the brain such as the hippocampus. These problems include declined production of new neurons important for making new memories.

“We examined changes in a type of housekeeping cell in the brain, called microglia, and they indicated inflammation, which looked similar to what we see in aging individuals with memory problems and other cognitive impairments,” Shetty said. The animal models also had hyper-activated mitochondria (the ‘powerhouse’ of the cell), implied by increased expression of genes related to mitochondrial respiration — the process by which mitochondria transform stored energy into a form the cell can use. The researchers also found that many genes related to inflammation were upregulated. “Together, these findings raise the possibility that hippocampal dysfunction in GWI is one of the adverse outcomes of persistently elevated oxidative stress and inflammation at the systemic level,” he added.

Fortunately, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds may be able to treat systemic inflammation, and it is possible such treatment would improve memory and mood function, Shetty said. The next steps are to test antioxidant and/or anti-inflammatory compounds on human veterans. For this, Shetty has established a collaboration with Dena Davidson, PhD, deputy director of research at the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans in Waco, Texas, to purse clinical trials in GWI patients. Davidson and her team, along with Shetty, will begin a clinical trial funded by the Department of Defense in September to examine the efficacy of resveratrol in GWI patients. Shetty’s earlier research has shown that this compound may be able to help prevent memory loss occurring with aging. Additional studies completed recently in Shetty’s laboratory have also shown resveratrol as a promising compound for decreasing systemic and brain inflammation, as well as improving cognitive and memory function in animal models of GWI.

“This really does demonstrate that when someone is exposed concurrently to a whole host of nasty chemicals even at low doses, there are consequences that are not going away,” Shetty said. “We hope that our research can help improve the quality of life in these veterans who were exposed while serving our country, and therefore are so deserving of whatever we can do to support them.”

 

Certain characteristics linked with ISIS anxiety

A new study examines the characteristics of individuals who are most likely to have anxiety concerning threats posed by ISIS.

In the study of 1007 adult Israelis, being female, having a lower socio-economic status, and having elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were related to ISIS anxiety. Exposure to ISIS in the media and having low resilience were also linked to ISIS anxiety. Finally, the PTD-ISIS relationship was especially pronounced when the mental resources of resilience and optimism were low. Resilienceis defined mainly as a resource aimed at dealing with a current threat, while optimism is defined as a resource related to future outcomes.

“The findings may have important implications for addressing heightened anxiety in the event of elevated terrorist threats in terms of showing that exposure to ISIS media is detrimental to one’s mental health and increases ISIS anxiety beyond one’s level of general anxiety,” said Dr. Yaakov Hoffman, author of the Stress and Health. article. “Furthermore, the results may suggest that increasing one’s optimism and resilience may mitigate the ISIS threat sensitivity, especially in individuals with PTSD symptoms.”

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Deployment stress impacts well-being through different mental health issues for female and male vets

Experiencing stress-related mental health issues following deployment exposures increases risk of reduced well-being in other life domains in the years following military service for veterans. Gender plays an important role in these associations.

The findings, which appear in Clinical Psychological Science, have implications for better understanding the challenges female and male veterans face upon returning from service and may lead to ways care can be optimized with consideration of the role gender may play.

According to the researchers, previous studies have shown a relationship between the development of mental health issues, particularly PTSD, and decreased functioning and satisfaction with family and work for veterans. However, gender often has been overlooked as a variable, and the role of particular deployment stressors have not been extensively examined. “Our study illustrates the complex interplay between specific military exposures, mental health, and subsequent post deployment well-being between the genders,” explained lead author Brian Smith, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and research psychologist in the Women’s Health Sciences Division, National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System.

In this study, which was completed at the VA Boston Healthcare System, 522 male and female Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans completed two surveys. The first was completed within two years of separation from military service, and included questions about veterans’ military experiences as well as their current mental health. The second survey was completed approximately three and a half years later and included questions about functioning and satisfaction in the domains of work, romantic relationships and parenting.

The researchers concluded that each of the deployment stressors examined — warfare exposure, military sexual harassment and family stressors — had implications for veterans’ subsequent functioning and satisfaction in the areas of work and family. In addition, these exposures were often indirectly linked to functioning and satisfaction via mental health. Interestingly, the links differed between men and women. While PTSD symptoms played an important role for both genders, depression played a role as well, especially for female veterans. For example, PTSD linked all three deployment exposures and subsequent functioning and satisfaction in romantic relationships for men, while both PTSD and depression played significant roles for women. However, it is important to note that there were some similarities in risk as well. In the context of parenting, PTSD linked deployment exposures with reduced functioning for male and female veterans alike, and depression was the most important link in predicting lower satisfaction.

In addition, there was evidence for direct effects of military exposures on work and family quality of life. Again, some differences between males and females were found. For example, family stressors during deployment were directly associated with increased risk for parental impairment for female veterans, whereas for men the effect was only indirect through PTSD. These findings support the position that men and women may experience different military exposures and react in different ways. “This understanding of risk for reduced well-being, including the role of gender differences, may provide further important insight as to how to best cater post-military services to veterans’ unique needs following military service,” added Smith. “From a clinical perspective, these findings suggest that services aimed at addressing returning veterans’ reintegration into work and family life might pay particular attention to male and female veterans’ experiences while deployed, as well as their current mental health.”

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US army veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

In northern South Africa, former soldiers are fighting both the illegal wildlife trade and the twin scourges of unemployment and PTSD

The sun has set over the scrubby savannah. The moon is full. It is time for Ryan Tate and his men to go to work. In camouflage fatigues, they check their weapons and head to the vehicles.

Somewhere beyond the ring of light cast by the campfire, out in the vast dark expanse of thornbushes, baobab trees, rocks and grass, are the rhinos. Somewhere, too, may be the poachers who will kill them to get their precious horns.

All these veterans with billions of dollars of training and the government doesn’t use them. I saw a need in two places

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How fear can develop out of others’ traumas

What happens in the brain when we see other people experiencing a trauma or being subjected to pain? Well, the same regions that are involved when we feel pain ourselves are also activated when we observe other people who appear to be going through some painful experience. This is shown in a study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published in Nature Communications. But we are sensitive to different degrees to learning fear from other people and one explanation would appear to be found in the endogenous opioid system.

Seeing others express pain or anxiety can give us important information about things around us that are dangerous and should be avoided. Sometimes, however, we can develop fear of situations that, rationally speaking, are not dangerous. The opioid system is supposed to alleviate pain and fear but it does not work as effectively in all of us, which might be one of the reasons why some people develop anxiety syndrome merely by seeing others experience a trauma.

“Some people are over-sensitive to this form of social learning. Our study shows that the endogenous opioid system affects how sensitive we are and may explain why some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) merely by observing others who are experiencing traumatic events. After terror attacks, sensitive people might be afraid even if they themselves were not present,” says main author Jan Haaker, associated researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience.

In a double-blind study, the researchers altered the brain’s internal chemistry in 22 healthy subjects by using a pharmaceutical substance to block the opioid system. 21 subjects were given an inactive placebo. The subjects then watched a video where other people were subjected to electric shocks.

The brain normally updates its knowledge of danger based on whether we are surprised, but when the opioid system was blocked, the people continued to react as if they were surprised even though they knew the electric shock would come. And the response was amplified even when they continued to watch other people being subjected to shocks. The response increased in regions of the brain such as the amygdala, the periaqueductal gray and the thalamus, which seems to indicate that the same functions as in self-perceived pain were involved. Communication also increased between these and other regions of the brain that were previously linked to the ability to understand other individuals’ experiences and thoughts.

“When the people participating in the experiment were themselves subjected to threatening stimuli that they had previously associated with other people’s pain, they perspired more and displayed more fear than those who had been given a placebo. This enhanced learning was even visible three days after the social learning episode,” says research team leader Andreas Olsson, senior lecturer at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience.

The study contributes to greater understanding of the psychology behind fear. The researchers hope that the new findings will eventually mean that people with anxiety conditions will be able to be given better, more individual-adapted clinical help.

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Emotional toll from mass trauma can disrupt children’s sense of competence

Traumatic events can have a profound effect on communities. Whether it is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, the aftermath can have lasting effects, especially on children.

How children respond in the wake of mass traumatic events is related to their perceptions of competence — or how they view their ability to control a situation, said Carl Weems, professor and chair of human development and family studies at Iowa State University. An overwhelming challenge, such as a natural disaster, can disrupt the development of that sense of well-being.

In a paper published by the journal Applied Developmental Science, Weems and his colleagues evaluated perceptions of competence and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in children and teens exposed to hurricanes Katrina and Gustav and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They found that children with higher levels of competence were overall more resilient and had fewer PTSD symptoms.

However, researchers found that competence and well-being declined for older youth, specifically between the ages of 8 to 12, following the oil spill. Weems says the findings do not explain why this is the case. He and his colleagues suspect older youth had a greater awareness, compared to younger children, of the oil spill’s impact on their family and community, which affected their well-being.

The damage from Hurricane Katrina was extensive and felt by everyone, regardless of age, said Weems, who lived in New Orleans at the time. Researchers characterized Hurricane Katrina as a traumatic event because it posed a direct threat to people’s lives. While the oil spill was devastating, it was different. Not as many lives were at risk and entire neighborhoods were not leveled as a result.

“The oil spill stress involved more family economic hardship. The impact was more subtle than Katrina,” Weems said. “That’s why we think we only saw an impact from the oil spill on older children because they understood what was happening to their family.”

In the paper, researchers explained that limited awareness of long-term consequences may have made it easier for younger children to rebound from the effect of the oil spill.

Differences based on gender

Age was not the only factor to influence PTSD symptoms. In the study, girls were more likely to have higher rates of PTSD symptoms following disasters. Weems says this highlights the importance of interventions to promote competence and well-being among girls.

Researchers analyzed data from youth in five parishes or counties in the Gulf Region directly affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and the oil spill. More than 3,300 youth — 55 percent girls — between the ages of 8 and 18 were included in the study. Researchers had access to youth screenings and data collected prior to and after all three disasters.

Perceptions of competence and well-being were assessed through questions about the participants’ relationships with their parents and friends, their ability to solve problems or respond in emergencies and control actions, as well as how they feel about life. Researchers used surveys to measure symptoms of PTSD, and hurricane and oil spill exposure.

Treatment and intervention

Whether it is a terrorist attack, hurricane, tornado or wildfire, a natural disaster can profoundly affect a community with little warning. Weems says understanding how children respond to these situations can help researchers build appropriate interventions. Helping children face their fears and develop coping mechanisms to deal with those fears can improve resiliency.

In previous studies, Weems and his colleagues surprisingly found kids who experienced Katrina had stable PTSD before Gustav, but a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms after hurricane Gustav, which occurred three years later. Part of the reason why may be related to the successful evacuations and the fact few lives were lost during Gustav as a result, Weems said. In a way, Gustav made them face their fear.

Weems explained that cognitive behavior therapy is based on this principle of facing your fears through “exposure” to similar events or situations, and is an effective intervention for youth experiencing difficulty after trauma. It teaches youth that they have the competence to cope.

“We think Gustav may have provided a large scale, relatively more positive exposure for many, because people evacuated and the negative effects were less compared to Katrina. This helped children to develop a sense of competence and self-efficacy,” Weems said.

“When intervening after a disaster — whether it’s a hurricane or a tornado — you want to help kids actively cope and not avoid dealing with the situation or their feelings about it. By helping them develop their own sense of competence and well-being in dealing with bad things, you’ll develop more resilient children and prevent long-lasting problems.”

Weems cautions against pushing children too far, but helping them face their fears in a safe way. He recommends cognitive behavior therapy for youth with more serious difficulties following a traumatic event or natural disaster.

Previous work by Weems and colleagues found that children watching Gustav-related TV coverage was associated with their PTSD symptoms post-Gustav. Subsequent analyses revealed the relationship between TV viewing and post-Gustav symptoms of PTSD was significant only for children who had high levels prior to the hurricane. Parents of children with anxiety disorders such as PTSD should recognize the potential effects of media, Weems said.

“Parents don’t necessarily need to keep their kids from watching the coverage, but it is best that they’re not glued to the TV,” he said. “Parents should limit viewing and process the information with their kids.”

I was 10 when I witnessed an IRA bomb. The Manchester victims will need years of help | Louise Nevin

My friend and I were caught up in an attack in 1976 and it still affects us. It’s vital to ensure support is readily available for anyone who wants it

It is almost impossible to put into words how horrible the attack on the Manchester Arena on Monday night was. The news will terrify any parent. For anyone who’s ever been near to a terrorist attack, it will provide a reminder of the pain that such events inflicts. This morning, Tessa Jowell reminded us on the Today programme of the long-lasting effects of these atrocities on relatives and friends of the casualties. She said that support for families affected should last “10 years” at least, drawing on her experiences of coordinating the response to the 7/7 attacks. That did not surprise me at all.

Related: Manchester is suffering now – but its spirit will overcome this atrocity | Owen Jones

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‘A light went on in my head’: how charity helps veterans beat alcoholism

According to Combat Stress, 13% of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have significant alcohol disorders

Just over a year ago, Mike spent New Year’s Eve on his kitchen floor. He was stuck there for 15 hours, with a broken shoulder. A few months earlier, he had broken a hip. Before that, he had ended up in hospital with hypothermia.

Every time, the veteran was blind drunk. He was getting through at least a large bottle of vodka every single day.

She drew me this ridiculous picture of my liver

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Veterans with PTSD have an increased ‘fight or flight’ response

Young veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an increased ‘fight or flight’ response during mental stress, according to new findings published this week in the Journal of Physiology.

The team at Emory University School of Medicine, led by Dr Jeanie Park, believe that this contributes to the increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease in PTSD patients.

PTSD is prevalent in both military and civilian populations. The lifetime prevalence of PTSD in US adults is 7.8% and around 14% in post-9/11 veterans. PTSD patients are known to have a higher risk for developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers also found that veterans with PTSD had higher adrenaline levels and less control of their heart rate in response to blood pressure changes. While previous studies have suggested that the sympathetic nervous system- the ‘fight or flight’ response- of veterans is overactive, this study was the first to measure this increased activity directly and provide a potential mechanism behind this response.

Dr Park and her team took these measurements while the participants experienced two types of mental stress. First-person war images and sounds shown through virtual reality goggles recreated mental stress related to PTSD. Mental arithmetic elicited mental stress un-related to PTSD.

They studied the physiology of post-9/11 veterans, 14 of whom had PTSD and 14 who did not. They measured blood pressure, performed an electrocardiogram (EKG), and recorded sympathetic nerve activity directly in real-time using electrodes placed inside a large nerve. This technique is called microneurography and is considered the gold-standard method for assessing sympathetic nervous system activity in humans.

Commenting on the study, Dr Park said: ‘To protect patients against high blood pressure and heart disease, we need to first understand how their physiology malfunctions. We can then identify potential treatments.’

‘This study looked specifically at veterans with combat-related PTSD, so the findings do not necessarily apply to non-veterans with PTSD, nor to patients with non-combat-related PTSD,’ she added.

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Patients need motivation to recover. The NHS must offer hope | Kate Allatt

It is futile prescribing stroke rehabilitation plans if patients lack motivation before therapy starts or are left at home trying to manage their own condition

Our NHS is under attack from all angles. People are living longer, we don’t eat well or exercise enough. Yet we expect more from the NHS; more people are visiting A&E departments and minor injury units year on year, and costs are rising.

How do we tackle this? What if we focus on marginal gains, the performance strategy that helped British Cycling to success in multiple Olympics?

Related: The five principles behind the world’s most efficient health systems

L​owering ​​patients’ expectations of ​recovery​ can be extremely damaging

Related: A bigger say in the NHS for patients

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A supportive, loving community can help heal neglected children | Emma Colyer

Research suggests children exposed to neglect or abuse suffer poor health as adults and die sooner. We need to address the causes, not treat the symptoms

Our childhood stays with us throughout our lives. We know this intuitively, from the shiver that can accompany memories of an upsetting event from our early years even into adulthood. But it is also true in a much deeper way.

The Adverse Childhood Experience (Ace) study, carried out in the US in the 1990s, found that children exposed to serious neglect, abuse or household dysfunction were at significantly greater risk of a litany of poor health and social outcomes, ranging from heart disease, liver disease and sexually transmitted diseases to depression, suicide attempts and intimate partner violence. Most starkly, people with a high score on the Ace scale died on average nearly 20 years earlier [pdf] than their counterparts who reported no childhood adversity.

Related: Why secure early bonding is essential for babies

If the right questions are not being asked, we cannot expect to find the right answers

Related: How childhood stress can knock 20 years off your life

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Teenager dropped by football club loses post-traumatic stress claim

Seán Cooke’s father says his son’s dream of playing in the UK was harmed when he was denied the opportunity to play in front of talent scouts

An Irish teenager has lost a case taken against his former football club, where he claimed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after he was dropped from the team as a 13-year-old.

Seán Cooke, 18, sued Carrigaline United over alleged ill treatment by coaches at the club. Cooke told Judge Seán O’Donnabhain at Cork circuit court that he was a good player who hoped to play professionally in Britain, but was not given the chance to play in front of talent scouts after he was allegedly dropped.

Related: What do scouts look for in young players – and why are they not more venerated?

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Afghanistan and Iraq veterans’ opioid use similar to that of civilians

Heavy rucksacks, parachuting out of helicopters, combat injuries, and stress result in chronic pain for many service members. In the United States, opioids are commonly prescribed to manage chronic pain, and overprescribing is a concern, particularly for veterans’ healthcare.

However, a new study published in Pain suggests that opioid use among Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND) veterans is roughly comparable to that of the general U.S. population.

“We found that use of opioids among OEF/OIF/OND veterans was characterized by use of moderate doses prescribed for fairly long periods of time,” said Teresa Hudson, Pharm.D., Ph.D., study author and research scientist at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “However, chronic use among this group of veterans appeared to be lower than that of veterans who served in other time periods.”

The first-of-its kind study looked at pharmacy claims data from the Veterans Health Administration and found that 23 percent of all OEF, OIF, and OND veterans were prescribed an opioid in a given year. Among veterans prescribed opioids, about two-thirds took them for short periods of time, and one-third took them chronically.

“Findings from this study suggest that opioid use patterns of OEF/OIF/and OND veterans are similar to those of the U.S. population and suggest that the opioid problem is not so much a VA problem, but rather, an American problem,” said Mark Edlund, M.D., Ph.D., study author and senior research scientist at RTI International.

The study found that PTSD, major depressive disorder, tobacco use, and rural residence were strongly associated with chronic opioid use. Pain severity also increased the odds of chronic pain use among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

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Reduction of post-traumatic stress symptoms associated with noninvasive technology

A closed-loop acoustic stimulation brainwave technology significantly reduced symptoms in people suffering from post-traumatic stress in a small pilot study conducted at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. The study is published in the April 19 online edition of the journal BMC Psychiatry.

“The effects of chronic stress are killing people and the medical profession has not yet found an answer for how best to treat them,” said Charles H. Tegeler, M.D., professor of neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, a part of Wake Forest Baptist. “We believe there is a need for effective, non-invasive, non-drug therapies for symptoms of post-traumatic stress, which is why we conducted this trial.”

Nineteen volunteers who reported high scores on the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist, civilian version (PCL-C), a commonly used symptom inventory, were included in this single-site study. Of those, 18 completed an average of 16 sessions over a total of 16.5 days, with eight days of actual visits to the office, Tegeler said.

The intervention, high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring (HIRREM), focused on the brain, which is the organ of central command for managing responses to threat and trauma. Participants received a series of HIRREM sessions in which brain electrical activity was monitored noninvasively at high spectral resolution with software algorithms translating selected brain frequencies into audible tones in real time. Those tones were reflected back to participants via ear buds in as little as four milliseconds, providing the brain an opportunity for self-optimization of its electrical pattern.

As a closed-loop neurotechnology, the process did not require any conscious, cognitive activity by the participant, who merely relaxed and listened to the tones.

“It’s as if the brain can look at itself in an acoustic mirror, recalibrate its patterns towards improved balance and reduced hyperarousal, and can relax,” Tegeler said. HIRREM was developed by Brain State Technologies based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and has been licensed to Wake Forest Baptist for collaborative research since 2011.

Participants completed the PCL-C, and 12 also had continuous recording of blood pressure and heart rate, before and after the intervention sessions. Changes in temporal lobe high frequency asymmetry were analyzed from baseline assessment through the first four sessions, and again for the last four sessions. Autonomic cardiovascular regulation was evaluated with analysis of heart rate variability and blood pressure modulation before and after the intervention.

After the sessions, 89 percent (16 of 18) of the participants reported clinically meaningful decreases in symptoms of post-traumatic stress as indicated by a change of at least 10 points from their baseline PCL-C score, Tegeler said. In the entire study group, the average reduction in the PCL-C score was 24 points. There were no adverse events reported.

There is ample scientific evidence that there is some brain asymmetry associated with chronic stress. This study is important because it also showed that there was improved balance in brain pattern activity and significant improvement in the autonomic nervous system function, as measured by heart rate variability and blood pressure modulation. All are relevant to a state of chronic stress, which now seems to affect so many people, Tegeler said.

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A puke bucket and an ancient drug: is ayahuasca the future of PTSD treatment?

I visited Peru to find out more about an intriguing ayahuasca study – and to have my own experience with the psychedelic brew

I’m sitting on a blue plastic, wipe-down mattress with my back to a wooden pillar. Within arm’s reach on the floor is a small torch to light my way to the toilet during the night, on the other side an orange plastic bucket to puke into. As the light fades my four companions, each with his or her own plastic mattress and bucket, disappear from view while on every side the barks, croaks, growls and cries of jungle life grow louder. Twenty minutes ago I gulped down a draught of the bitter psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca and I have convinced myself that I can feel its hot, unstoppable progress through my body, from my seething guts into my veins and onwards to my brain.

This is hardly a recreational drug experience, what with the nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, not to mention the possibility a truly terrifying trip, yet thousands now beat a path to Peru, Ecuador and Brazil every year to drink ayahuasca. Some are just looking for an exotic thrill, but others hope for enlightenment and healing from this ancient plant medicine. In the past few years, many of them have been war veterans desperate to escape the nightmares of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Related: Seeing with eyes wide shut: Ayahuasca inner visions | Mo Costandi | Neurophilosophy Blog

Related: Peru’s ayahuasca industry booms as westerners search for alternative healing

Related: Why psychedelics could be a new class of antidepressant

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