Monday, March 19, 2007
Daily supplement for war?
Four years ago today, we watched the U.S.-led coalition forces invade Iraq. To be honest, I can't remember where I was. The events of that date aren't etched in my mind as are those of September 11, 2001, or even the day Saddam's statue fell. What I do remember clearly are the reports from U.S. officials citing evidence that Iraq was planning to use chemical weapons against U.S. forces, Iraqi citizens and consequently the embedded journalists on the front.
At the beginning of this war, health and medical reporters were focused on the unknown terror of biological and chemical weapons. We prepared ourselves for attacks of botulism, smallpox, anthrax. We studied the difference between nerve agents such as sarin and blistering agents such as mustard gas. Four years ago, if you had asked me the size of a danger zone in a nuclear or biochemical attack with the wind blowing 20 miles to the west and sunny conditions, I could spit out the calculation as if it were a multiplication table.
Today, the conditions are much different for medical journalists. When it comes to the war in Iraq, our headlines focus on how the military has dealt with caring for its own for the past few years. I've interviewed young soldiers returning home who say they just aren't the same emotionally or physically. From combat medic training, to post-traumatic stress disorder to amputations to what's been called the signature injury of this war - traumatic brain injury, I've had the privilege of interviewing young servicemen and servicewomen both before and after their deployment.
In a broader sense, war has always been a time for incredible medical advances. By necessity, doctors are forced to innovate in the battlefield. They need to be more nimble and get the injured to care faster and more effectively. In many cases, trauma medicine feels the greatest impact of the war.
But just recently, a new Department of Defense-funded study focused on quercetin, a powerful anti-oxidant commonly found in apples, onions and black tea. The researchers found that quercetin could possibly help soldiers on the battlefield. The major findings found that after extreme exercise mimicking physical conditions in the field, quercetin could help fight off the common cold and could help improve mental vigilance. The study looked at 1,000 mg compared with the 25-50 mg eaten daily in the average American diet. The findings are promising, and more studies will be done before it will be recommended as a supplement to soldiers or civilians.
The study was funded under the Peak Soldier Performance Program. It's just one arm of the DOD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The goal of many of its projects is to help soldiers fight better, stronger and longer.
Four years later, what do you think about the medical advances learned during the Iraq war? What do you think of government research dollars targeting improved soldier performance? In medical terms, what do you think is unique to this war?
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