Immune Augmentation Therapy for
Gulf War Syndrome
by Gary Null, PhD
After the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of
our veterans suffered toxic reactions, neurological damage, and rare
cancers due to exposure to 2,4,5,-D and 2,4,5-T dioxin that was used
in the form of the defoliant Agent Orange. Unfortunately, it took 20
years for the government to acknowledge a link between Agent Orange
and any of the illnesses that resulted from its use. Learning from that
experience, we have accelerated efforts to associate the ailments that
tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of veterans of
the Persian Gulf War are suffering with the toxic conditions to which
they were exposed. Gulf veterans' ailments include rare cancers, neurological
disease, and autoimmune conditions, ranging from full-blown chronic
fatigue syndrome to lupus, to scleroderma, to conditions shared within
We have now established a data base of thousands
of pages substantiating the fact that our GI's were exposed to a variety
of toxic agents, all of which can individually or in combination cause
neurological damage. These include recycled depleted uranium in casing
shells and ammunition shells in tanks; exotic, questionable inoculations
for anthrax and botulism, as well as secret vaccine adjuvants, including
squalene, which is forbidden by law to be used in humans but antibodies
to which have been found in a very high percentage of Gulf War vets
(vets suffering from Gulf War syndrome did not necessarily appear in
the Gulf theater, but were given inoculations to prepare them for that
eventuality); and biological and germ warfare agents to which troops
were exposed. Another factor was our detonation of toxic munitions depots
without protection for the troops doing the detonating or the surrounding
troops within the wind current area. In addition, specific toxic microbes
have been isolated, including a genetically engineered bacterium known
as mycoplasm incognitus, that produces gradual but severe neurological
The government has not come forth to take responsibility
for properly treating affected vets, many of whom cannot work because
of their disabilities. With this in mind, and considering that many
vets do not have adequate medical insurance, we have developed an inexpensive,
nontoxic, holistic approach to treating Gulf War syndrome, one that
any complementary or mainstream physician can easily implement. Modeled
after approaches used for treating AIDS, cancer, and chronic fatigue,
and centered around an organic vegetarian diet, its specific protocols
include live botanicals, oral and intravenous therapy, and a six-month
The Gulf War of 1991 was an American military success
story in that we were victorious in a short time and the conflict exacted
a relatively light casualty toll from our troops. But health-wise, the
Gulf War has had troubling repercussions. Tens of thousands of our Gulf
service people have become sick from a debilitating and sometimes deadly
syndrome. While the existence of Gulf War syndrome has been questioned
by some, it should be pointed out that most of the 27 other coalition
nations that participated with us in the war have also reported unexpected
numbers of sick veterans.
Part of the problem in defining what has been called
Gulf War syndrome is that the symptoms are so varied. The most common
is chronic fatigue, which affects over half of syndrome sufferers. Lupus
and scleroderma are other autoimmune conditions that have manifested.
Other conditions include lymphoma, cardiac ailments, memory loss, leukoencephalopathy,
and neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. Severe aches
and joint pains are common, and other frequently reported symptoms are
dizziness, nausea, stomach pains, light sensitivity, intense anxiety,
breathing difficulty, muscle spasms, diarrhea, blurred vision, inexplicable
skin rashes, hives, bleeding gums, eye redness, night sweats, and acute
migraine-like headaches. Sexual and urination disorders plague numerous
victims, while up to 25% of syndrome patients have experienced hair
loss, and 25% have acquired multiple chemical sensitivities, which means
they have become allergic to a wide variety of chemical substances and
can consequently have severe reactions to even the most common household
The Gulf War exposed our service people not just
to enemy fire, but to a new and highly toxic mix of environmental hazards.
The most publicized has been the fumes from Iraqi chemical weapons.
For five years after the war, the Pentagon denied that any of our troops
had been exposed to these poisons. In 1996, however, the government
admitted that some of our troops had been exposed to the nerve gas sarin
when the Americans blew up an Iraqi ammunitions depot in the town of
Kamisiyah right after the war's conclusion. The number of our troops
estimated by the government to have been exposed to sarin grew, over
the year, from a few hundred to almost 100,000, about a seventh of our
people in the conflict. The latest news is that a second Iraqi ammunition
depot, in Ukhaydir, may have been an additional source of poisonous
fumes, from mustard and nerve gas.
Experimental vaccines comprise another factor in
the Gulf War veterans' health picture. The troops immunized for the
Gulf fall into two major categories: The first consists of soldiers
who did not necessarily go into the theater of operations, but received
a blanket of immunizations required for worldwide status. The second
category of troops consists of soldiers who actually went to the Gulf
and were given additional inoculations upon arrival. These inoculations
often included experimental vaccines, such as those for anthrax and
botulinum, that were not approved for use by the FDA and have since
proven to cause potentially dangerous side effects. Soldiers who were
given these experimental vaccines have reported suffering from a variety
of neurological problems and aberrant bleeding from all parts of their
body. Because of these vaccines' experimental nature, many questions
have arisen as to why our government dispensed them.
Documents released by the Pentagon in 1995 revealed
that high-ranking military officials had pressured the Food and Drug
Administration into authorizing experimentation with pyridostigmine
bromide (PB) tablets for protection against Iraqi chemical or biological
attacks. PB tablets are usually only used for the treatment of the chronic
muscle weakness disorder myasthenia gravis, but the military and the
FDA waived the traditional informed consent procedures during the early
stages of the conflict. Many soldiers did inquire about the classified
nature of the pills, but, nevertheless, they were forced to consume
them in excessive quantities by their commanding officers. Others, fearing
for their safety, ignored the orders of their superiors after witnessing
the pills' unpleasant gastric effects upon their fellow servicemen and
Evidence has indicated that the procedure for administering
the pills placed the recipients at risk. Records of who received the
pills were not kept, and a standard dosage was distributed, regardless
of sex, age, weight, or medical history. What's more, the toxicity of
this experimental drug was actually heightened by issuing it along with
powerful insecticides, such as DEET, a potentially lethal combination.
Our use of depleted uranium in the Gulf is yet another
immune-compromising factor. Its name implies that it is a harmless material
but, in actuality, depleted uranium is still a highly poisonous, radioactive,
heavy metal. The term "depleted" comes from the fact that
natural uranium is made from a fissionable isotope, U-235, while depleted
uranium is made from a relatively stable isotope, U-238. After U-235
is extracted from U-238 for use in nuclear weapons and breeder reactors,
only U-238 remains. While it is now depleted because it no longer contains
U-235, due to its density the uranium still emits one-third of its original
The military uses depleted uranium to tip bullets
and tank shells, praising the material's ability to make metals super-hard
so that they can penetrate steel as easily as butter. But what the military
neglects to consider in its enthusiasm for depleted uranium is that
the downside to this technology far outweighs its benefits. Once bullets
reach their destination, they explode upon impact, releasing a fine,
radioactive, aerosol mist. These toxic particles travel in the wind,
mix with water and soil, and are inhaled and ingested by anyone in their
US and British forces used Operation Desert Storm
as a testing ground for the widespread employment of depleted uranium.
It is estimated that over 940,000 30-mm uranium-tipped bullets and 14,000
large-caliber depleted rounds were used. Between 350 and 800 tons of
depleted uranium residue, with a half-life of 4.4 billion years, permeate
the ground and water of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
In light of such immense pollution, it is easy to
see that many people have come into contact with depleted uranium. Inhalation
and ingestion of the substance were unavoidable for troops in close
proximity to exploding shells. In addition, soldiers spent long hours
sitting in tanks, handling uranium-laced shells and casings. Weapons
were also taken home as souvenirs. Families of veterans came in contact
with the substance after handling clothing laced with it.
Many of the symptoms experienced by Gulf War veterans
and their families are indicative of radiation poisoning. Some of these
are nausea, vomiting, wasting, memory loss, and raised rates of cancer.
There is a terrible impact on the children of veterans as well, possibly
due to affected sperm. Vets' children are manifesting an alarming rate
of birth defects, lowered immunity, and childhood cancers.
Other factors contributing to the compromised health
of those who served in the Gulf include petroleum-related pollution
from oil-well fires, diesel fumes, a genetically engineered microbe
known as mycoplasm incognitus, and parasites. Gulf War syndrome is a
complex and frustrating problem because affected individuals were not
all subject to all of these factors. Plus some of the factors, in combination,
no doubt worked synergistically. While the damage from each factor will
probably never be quantified, the important question is, how best can
those suffering from Gulf War illness regain their health?
A nutritional approach to Gulf War syndrome is similar
to that for chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as to those for AIDS and
cancer. Even though we call these different diseases, these conditions
have many biological manifestations in common; some of them are loss
of motor skills, cognition, and memory; higher incidences than normal
of MS and ALS; restless leg syndrome; circulatory problems; loss of
weight and wasting syndrome; candida overgrowth; chronic upper respiratory
infections; urinary tract infections; pneumocystis infections; high
levels of Epstein-Barr and cytomegalovirus, as well as herpes 1, 2,
and 6 and coxsackievirus; urinary and bowel incontinence; blurred vision
and lack of peripheral vision; and changing tastes in the mouth. Clinically,
I have seen people in all four groups respond favorably to similar detoxification,
nutritional, herbal, and I.V. protocols.
Whenever immune system augmentation is the goal,
the first strategy to take is one of detoxification. That is, people
must make dietary changes that will enable their bodies to get rid of
poisons that have accumulated over the years and that prevent their
systems from operating optimally. To begin detoxifying, some people,
depending upon their condition, can benefit greatly from going on a
supervised fresh, organic vegetable juice fast for several days.
Foods that are particularly good detoxifiers include
pears, blueberries, strawberries, papaya, and apples, and these are
all recommended. Other recommendations for detoxification are actually
measures that should ideally be continued for a lifetime. These include
- in addition to eating a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables
- eliminating alcohol and caffeine, as well as refined sugar, from the
diet. Meat should, ideally, be eliminated, and dairy products should
be cut down on or eliminated if one is sensitive to them, as many people
Intake of pure water should be increased; water
facilitates detoxification and many people go through life consuming
a suboptimal amount without realizing it. Water is particularly important
for chronic fatigue patients and others who are trying to maximize their
immune function. Since cold liquids tend to shock chronic fatigue sufferers,
warm ones are preferable.
General Dietary Guidelines
Again, in general, when one is not tailoring a protocol
to a specific patient, dietary recommendations for people with Gulf
War syndrome are similar to those that chronic fatigue sufferers have
found helpful. Complex carbohydrates, in the form of organic whole grains,
vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, are the mainstay of the diet, which
should be low in fat, as high-fat diets depress immunocompetence.1
In addition, juices, especially juices containing
dark vegetables, such as collards and dandelion, are essential for the
chronic fatigue or Gulf War illness patient because they provide an
ample supply of immune system-boosting enzymes. Other green juices that
can be rotated into the diet include cabbage, kale, broccoli, mustard,
Swiss chard, spinach, watercress, parsley, and wheat grass. All of these
can be juiced together with carrot, beet, garlic, or apple. Also, aloe
vera, as well as celery, cucumber, and lemon, can be a valuable component
of these juices. These green, chlorophyll-rich juices should be taken
liberally - six 10-ounce glasses per day are not too much.
Purification and stimulation of the spleen and lymphatic
system can be enhanced by consuming fresh dandelions, sprouts, asparagus,
mustard greens, radishes, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli
and cauliflower. Sea vegetables, including kombu, wakame, hijiki, arame,
and dulse, are beneficial for the maintenance of bone marrow and the
thymus gland. Sea vegetables contain trace minerals that are now diminished
in foods grown on land. Studies show that dulse chelates heavy metals
and protects against radiation.
It is important to incorporate high-quality protein
derived from vegetarian sources into the diet. Examples of such sources
are tofu, tempeh, fortified soy milk, and legumes. Since fish contain
a rich supply of omega-3 fatty acids, small quantities of fresh fish
may also be advantageous, but the fish consumed should be obtained from
an unpolluted source and should not have been submerged into chlorine
during preparation. If a person eats animal protein, consumption of
this type of food should not exceed 8 ounces daily. Note that since
many animals raised in factory farm conditions are exposed to harmful
hormones and pesticides, organic supplies of animal protein are recommended.
There is an immune-enhancing soup created by the
Chinese that can help weakened individuals regain energy. The recipe
consists of a mixture of a whole astragalus root with onions, garlic,
ginger, and either organic poultry, fish, tofu, or tempeh. Brown rice
and fresh green vegetables can also be added. After the soup reaches
the boiling point, it should be allowed to simmer. Finally, miso is
added to further boost nutrition, and enhance flavor.
If calorie consumption needs to be increased, recommended
foods include avocado, nut butters, almonds, and sunflower seeds.
Small quantities of fat are important, but these
should come from high-quality sources. A tablespoon of unrefined olive
or canola oil can be added to salads. Flaxseed oil and fatty fish, like
salmon, are also excellent. Fish oils may be helpful in autoimmune conditions.2
Remember that oils need refrigeration to prevent rancidity.
Oriental mushrooms, like shiitake and maitake, boost
the immune system. Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinen, a substance
that stimulates the body's interferon and helps to fight viruses. Maitake
mushrooms have been shown to be effective against cancer.3,4 Soups and
teas can be made from these mushrooms and taken daily.
Garlic is another valuable food. It contains allicin,
a potent antibacterial and antiviral agent. When garlic is cooked, allicin
is diminished, so this herb is best taken raw or in capsules. Garlic
also contains vitamins A and C, thiamine, calcium, potassium, copper,
and selenium. Note that garlic can be juiced along with other vegetables.
Many chronic fatigue and Gulf War syndrome sufferers
have deficiencies of magnesium, chromium, zinc, and other nutrients.
Thus, a multivitamin/multimineral supplement is important.
Beyond this, consuming between 5000 and 10,000 mg
of vitamin C daily is beneficial. Numerous studies have demonstrated
ascorbic acid's ability to inactivate a variety of viruses, from the
common cold to herpes to hepatitis to the AIDS virus.5 Since this antioxidant
tends to be discharged from the body during excretion, distributing
the dose over the course of a day is recommended. Also, it should be
noted that smoking, among its other drawbacks, cuts the effectiveness
of this important nutrient.
Higher doses of vitamin C can be administered through
intravenous drips under the supervision of a physician. Intravenous
supplements have proven to be quite successful in the treatment of chronic
fatigue syndrome, as well as hepatitis, AIDS, and cancer. Often 150,000
to 200,000 mg of vitamin C is dispensed intravenously, while the patient
continues to consume quantities of oral supplements to bowel tolerance.
(These high I.V. dosages of therapeutic vitamin C are gradually built
up to-and then stepped down from - over the course of many weeks.)
It is a good idea to take vitamin C together with
bioflavonoids because the latter enhance the vitamin's absorption and
further aid immune function.
Another important antioxidant, vitamin E, should
be supplemented in quantities of 400 to 800 units per day, while 100
mg of vitamin B complex should be consumed three times daily. It's been
shown that vitamins E and B6 are required to maintain the immune response,
and supplementation at higher than RDA levels may be necessary for optimal
immune function.6 Beta carotene may also prove useful for raising immune
Zinc picolinate can substantially augment the body's
supply of zinc when it's taken in quantities of 35-50 mg daily. The
picolinate element of the supplement aids in transporting this vital
element into the cell. Note, though, that excessive quantities of zinc
are harmful; amounts over 100 mg have been found to have an adverse
effect on the immune system.
Chromium supplements, in either the GTF form or
the picolinate form, may be helpful in that they enable the body's supply
of insulin to carry blood sugar into the cells. The mineral magnesium
is also crucial to the production of energy, as it aids in the synthesis
of ATP. Unfortunately the presence of a magnesium deficiency is difficult
to ascertain, as standard blood tests fail to take into account actual
mineral levels within the cells.
NADH, commonly known as coenzyme 1, is a relatively
new therapy that has demonstrated an ability to alleviate chronic fatigue
without harmful side effects. Coenzyme 1 is a natural substance that
can be found in every cell within the human body; it's essential in
the production of energy. Supplementing it on a daily basis can naturally
augment the energy supply. The amino acid tyrosine also enhances the
production of energy by aiding functioning of neurotransmitters. Tyrosine
is not recommended, though, for those suffering from melanoma or schizophrenia.
Coenzyme Q10 acts as an energy stimulant and can
be effectively supplemented in quantities of 75 to 300 mg per day, while
the amino acid glutamine can further increase energy.
New research shows striking improvement from evening
primrose oil. The oil's active ingredient, gamma linoleic acid (GLA),
has been shown to help patients overcome severe fatigue, muscle pain,
depression, and confusion in six months' time.
If antibiotics have destroyed the balance of a patient's
intestinal flora, lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus bulgaris,
and bifido bacteria may be essential supplements.
As complements of a dietary and vitamin/mineral
supplementation program, herbal therapies have proven helpful. Many
of the plants that have been useful in treating illness and that are
referred to as tonics, belong to the category of herbs known as adaptogens.
That is, they work through a wide variety of actions to help create
homeostasis. So, for example, if the blood pressure is too high, adaptogens
help the body lower it; if it is too low, the body responds by raising
it. Adaptogens help normalize the system regardless of the pathology.
Studies demonstrate that adaptogenic plants are
especially good at stimulating the body's own natural immune functions.
For example, they have been shown to increase CD4 counts, interferon
production, macrophage activity, and natural killer cell action. Adaptogens
are often combined for a more potent synergistic effect. An example
is astragalus and legustrum; the combination is more effective than
either plant used alone.8
Astragalus membranaceous root has a centuries-long
history of use, in China. Today, we know that this herb is able to foster
normal immune response in cancer and AIDS patients, to correct T-cell
deficiency, and to promote antiviral action.9-11 Combined with legustrum,
it is available in extract and capsule form. These two herbs can also
be bought whole, then crushed, and then simmered in a small amount of
water for several hours. The Chinese prepare herbs in this way and consume
Often used in conjunction with astragalus and legustrum
is the ganoderma, or reishi mushroom. This is a general energy stimulant,
as well as a cancer-fighter. Reishi mushroom has long been used in the
Orient to help those recovering from chronic illness, especially general
Another valuable adaptogen originally used by the
Chinese is ginseng. Siberian ginseng has been shown to protect the body
against environmental pollution and radiation, regulate blood sugar
levels, protect the liver, and improve adrenal function, among other
benefits.8 Both the Siberian and panax varieties stabilize energy levels
by heightening vitality during the day and promoting relaxation at night.
Furthermore, ginseng strengthens the immune system by increasing the
quantity and performance of disease-fighting cells. The recommended
dosage of Siberian ginseng is 200-300 mg/day, while the suggested dosage
of panax is slightly less. Ginseng can be consumed either as a tea or
as an extract.
Basil is another adaptogen, one shown to increase
physical endurance and body resistance. Considered a sacred plant in
India, it has traditionally been used as an expectorant, diaphoretic,
antiemetic, antiseptic, and analgesic. This tonic herb also has antiparasitic
Tulip poplar bark, which Western cultures have borrowed
from traditional Native American medicine, is yet another energy stimulant.
Garlic is an immunosupportive substance useful in
combating infectious organisms by aiding the body's natural killer cells.
It's been proven effective against herpes and candida, and also has
antitumor and antiparasitic properties,12 and has the advantages of
being easy to absorb through the gastrointestinal system and being of
low toxicity. When garlic is taken in tablet form, two capsules should
be consumed with every meal.
Fresh oats (not to be confused with rolled or Quaker
oats) are a nervous system rejuvenator used in the treatment of chronic
fatigue. This herb is of particular value in lessening nicotine, caffeine,
and recreational drug withdrawal symptoms.
Another recommended herb is licorice root, which
aids in arousing adrenal energy and has powerful antiviral qualities.
Licorice root, or glycyrrhizin, is effective against herpes and other
viruses, including HIV,13 and is a good detoxifier.
A fungus commonly used by Asians, poria cocos, is
used to purify the blood and can aid in increasing stamina. Usnea and
lomacium have antiviral characteristics and have also demonstrated their
ability to quell chronic fatigue.
Finally, stinging nettle and common burdock root
have proven useful in fortifying the immune system. Burdock, a close
relative of echinacea, dandelion and feverfew, has chemical constituents
proven to be antibacterial, antifungal, and protective against tumors.14
Specific protocols for Gulf War syndrome are of
course tailored to the individual patient, with consideration given
to the symptoms being manifested and the toxic factors to which the
person was exposed. Following is an example of one program that has
been successfully used under the supervision of a physician:
1. Discussion - Lifestyle changes:
- No smoking, drug use, caffeine, or alcohol
- Plant-food-centered diet
2. Intravenous therapy (infused 2-3 hours, 1-2 times weekly):
- Vitamin C-15-30 g
- B complex
3. Intramuscular therapy (1x week):
- Gamma globulin
- Iron/B12 injection
- Magnesium sulfate
4. Oral nutrients:
- Multivitamin (B complex, A, beta carotene) 4x daily
- Buffered vitamin C 3x daily (10-15 g)
- Digestive enzymes 1-3x daily
- NAC (glutathione) 1500 mg daily
- Garlic capsules 3x daily
- Herbs: St. John's Wort (Hypericum) 5 drops 2x daily
Intravenous therapy consisting
of proteins, carbohydrates and fats
if patient has lost 15 lb
or more, or has severe malabsorption.
6. Patients with bacterial or fungal infections are treated with appropriate
antibacterial or antifungal therapy, as well as the foregoing protocol.
Gary Null, PhD
Gary Null & Associates
139-141 Franklin Street
New York, New York 10013 USA