A news report suggests that there is growing evidence of a link between developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease and military service.
This is a fatal neurodegenerative disease which is very rare. More research is needed as there have been very few studies on the relationship between the disease and military service as mentioned in a report from the US Institute of Medicine.
Dr Richard T Johnson said 'The connection is pretty strong statistically, the risk [of developing ALS] is small. It's only a 50 percent increase in risk,' Dr Richard is the chairman of the committee that published this report. He is also a Distinguished Service Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine.
Of the five studies, three that were done among Gulf War veterans found that the chance of veterans developing ALS was two times higher than for the general population, or for veterans who weren't in that 1990-1991 war.
This study was done on 5 war veterans from the Gulf War It is found that the chances of developing the disease were as high as two and half times when compared to the general population. The chances for developing the disease are also higher when compared to other war veterans who were not part of the 1990-1991 war.
A further study mentioned that the risk of developing the disease had a 1.5 fold increase before the Gulf War. However a fifth study did not find any relationship between ALS and military service.
About 0.01 percent of the U.S. population, some 20,000 to 30,000 people develop ALS. Those with the disease experience a progressive breakdown of nerve cells that control the muscles, eventually resulting in paralysis and death.
Patients with the disease have a progressive breakdown of nerve cells which control the muscles. This eventually leads to paralysis and death. There are aournd 20,000 to 30,000 people which are 0.01 percent of the US population who have been affected by the disease.
Johnson thinks that, while the connection is statistically significant, the study findings need to be replicated. 'The question is, if it's true, then why does military service increase your risk?'
'The question is, if it's true, then why does military service increase your risk?' says Dr Johnson who thinks that there is statistical proof.
Researchers say that the connection needs to be further studied. The cause for ALS among veterans also needs to be further analyzed, whether it was proximity to toxic chemicals, or traumatic events or the exhaustive physical activity or any other experience which soldiers encounter.
According to Johnson veterans need not be overly concerned about their risk for ALS. 'The risk is so small that's it's not something that one worries about,' he said.
Lucie Bruijn, the science director of the ALS Association said, 'This was important to review and was not unexpected to me in terms of findings. Although there is limited evidence, it is very suggestive, and I think that the recommendations for further studies are very important.'
Bruijn said that genetics account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the risk for ALS. She said, 'Ninety percent of ALS is sporadic. So there is no real known cause.'
However, Bruijn does think that there are environmental conditions that can trigger genetic susceptibility. She said, 'We all believe, in the scientific community, it's the combination of the environment and genes. In this instance [among the military], the same is going on. There is genetic susceptibility plus environmental exposure that puts them in this position.'
Currently, veterans of the Gulf War get disability compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs if they develop ALS, but other veterans do not.
'Congress needs to continue to fund research in this area,' said Steve Gibson, the ALS Association's vice president for government relations. 'We think that because of this connection, it is imperative that we protect our men and women. Because right now, if you fight for our country, you are at higher risk of developing ALS, and we need to find out the reasons why.'