07/15/2011 03:14 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2011

Take a Simple Nutrient? Improve Gulf War Syndrome

A study at the University of San Diego, funded by the Department of Defense, has been supplying Gulf War vets with CoQ10. The study hopes to find whether the nutrient helps these veterans' health issues -- which include chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pains, memory and cognitive difficulties, and mood and sleep problems.

At least 25 percent of Gulf War vets have been experiencing such problems since their time in service. While in the Gulf region they were exposed to a variety of chemical toxicants including organophosphate pesticides that were impregnated into the uniforms that were issued. They were also given pyridostigmine bromide as an antidote to possible nerve-gas agents and used DEET as an insect repellant. In addition, some vets may have been exposed to Sarin, a nerve gas used in some of the SCUD missiles a which is also an organophosphate compound. On top of this toxic exposure load, many were also exposed to the burning oil wells in Kuwait.

Those vets with this set of health problems -- often referred to as "Gulf War Illness" -- have not been improving since the end of their service. And their symptoms picture is shared by many others who never served in the military. Many who are simply overburdened by everyday environmental chemicals have the same types of problems. I see this same symptom picture in those with "chemical sensitivity" and "fibromyalgia." All of these problems begin when the body is exposed to more chemical toxicants each day than it has the ability to clear out. As this happens day after day, the load of toxicants builds up and finally starts to cause problems.

So far, all of the chemical and heavy metal chemicals that have been identified in US residents have already been found to be toxic to our mitochondria. For those not familiar with this term, mitochondria are the little organelles inside of each of our cells that takes sugars and fats from the blood and makes them into energy. Think of them as the "engines" or "furnaces" of the cells. As the toxins slowly poison the mitochondria, they produce less energy. This translates to the cells not being able to do the job that they were designed to do and to less energy available throughout the body. The result is that your brain cells stop functioning as you would like. So do your white blood cells (your immune fighters) and the cells of every other organ in your body. If you are feeling tired and run down, this may be why.

In fact, mitochondrial dysfunction turns out to be the main mechanism by which all of these common chemical toxicants cause damage to our bodies. This is why they are associated with causing one to become overweight, diabetic, tired and end up with chronic debilitating diseases. The role of these common every-day chemical exposures in one obesity and fatigue, as well as what to do about it are covered in my recent book: Clean, Green and Lean (Wiley, publ.)

The researchers in this study of veterans noted that the symptoms the vets had were similar to those found in persons with mitochondrial disorders. The nutrient CoQ10 is one of the few nutrients in the body that actually fuels the functioning of the mitochondria. CoQ10 is VITAL for mitochondrial functioning. Without CoQ10, those little engines/furnaces just do not work. Earlier studies were done on the benefit of CoQ10 in persons with Parkinson's, which is known to be a disease of mitochondrial dysfunction.

The researchers found that the higher the daily dose of CoQ10, the slower the progression of Parkinson's became. The doctors at the University of San Diego were thrilled to see that CoQ10 also helped these Gulf War vets recover some of their health. This is actually the very first study showing any significant improvement for Gulf War Syndrom -- which is quite monumental in itself. That it is a natural supplement doing the helping warms my heart as a naturopathic physician.

CoQ10 is available in health food stores across the country in doses that range from 30 to 300mg. I personally like to take about 100 mg daily. Persons who are on statin drugs need to be taking at least this much as statins reduce the ability of your own body to make CoQ10.