News Stories

The Worst Killer

The war on terror is bad for everyone's health. Stress is affecting our soldiers AND our citizens, who are developing heart problems related to constant terror alerts. Will this still be going on in 2008? Experts say that the chances of the average person in America dying at the hands of terrorists is comparable to the risk of death from eating peanuts, being struck by an asteroid or drowning in a toilet: it's WORRYING about it that's killing us! And squirrels can give us a clue to why this is.

There has been a threefold increase in new cases of self reported post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms among combat-exposed military personnel since 2001, raising concerns about the health impact of military deployment. Studies have estimated as many as 30% of Vietnam War veterans developed post-traumatic stress disorder at some point following the war and, among 1991 Gulf War veterans, as many as 10% were reported to have post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms years after returning from deployment.

In the Jan. 15th edition of the New York Times, John Tierney writes that, "worrying about terrorism could be taking a toll on the hearts of millions of Americans." After the 911 attacks, researchers discovered that the most fearful people were 3 to 5 times more likely to receive diagnoses of new cardiovascular ailments. Psychologists think that this is the result of constant warnings about national security in the form of color-coded warnings of imminent attacks. The alert level has never dropped below yellow.

LiveScience.com explains why this happens. When an animal senses danger, this starts a chain reaction. The hormone known as adrenaline is released. This increases our heart rate as we get ready to flee, if necessary, and too much of this weakens the heart.

New research finds that veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are just as likely to have long-term health problems as people with chronic disease risk factors such as an elevated white blood cell counts and biological signs and symptoms. Researcher Joseph Boscarino says, "Exposure to trauma has not only psychological effects, but can take a serious toll on a person?s health status and biological functions as well. PTSD is a risk factor for disease that doctors should put on their radar screens."

Boscarino examined the health status of 4,462 male Vietnam-era veterans 30 years after their military service and found that having PTSD was just as good an indicator of a person's long-term health status as having an elevated white blood cell count, which can indicate a major infection or a serious blood disorder such as leukemia. "As the conflicts in the Middle East continue, we're seeing a new wave of our service members who have posttraumatic stress," says Boscarino, a Vietnam veteran. "If we don't get these personnel help earlier, our research shows that they may experience more serious health problems down the road."

Researcher Jill Mateo has found that when they perform normal survival tasks, ground squirrels learn more quickly if they have a modest amount of cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress, but little is known about the impact of low cortisol on learning among humans. Pregnant women who are exposed to stress, such as those tested after directly experiencing the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11, developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and had significantly lower cortisol two years later, as did their babies.

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