11:06 18 February 03
NewScientist.com news service
Special Forces soldiers have neurological differences that make them more resilient to post-traumatic stress disorder than the average soldier, say researchers.
A study of soldiers based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, found that Green Berets were much less likely to suffer symptoms of PTSD after a week of gruelling exercises that simulated being captured and interrogated by the enemy.
The elite soldiers produced more of a molecule called neuropeptide Y in their blood than regular soldiers. This molecule is generated by the body to help calm the brain in times of extreme stress, says Matt Friedmann, director of the US National Center for PTSD in Connecticut, which carried out the research.
"The Special Forces types had a greater capacity for mobilising neuropeptide Y than ordinary soldiers, and they were also able to sustain it for longer periods," he told a session on PTSD at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual conference in Denver, Colorado. Furthermore, neuropeptide Y in Special Forces personnel returned to normal levels within 24 hours, whereas it dipped below normal in the others.
The greater the capacity to mobilise neuropeptide Y, the lower the likelihood of PTSD, says Friedmann. "If we could bottle this, or if we could train people to mobilise their own neuropeptide Y, that would be primary prevention for PTSD - a very exciting approach," he says.
Although the work has been going on for several years, the researchers are still uncertain whether the Green Berets' enhanced capacity to endure trauma was genetic or had been acquired through Special Forces training.
Another study discussed in the conference session revealed the extent of PTSD in the general population, following the terrorist attacks of September 11. The new work by researchers from the New York Academy of Medicine shows that 7.5 per cent of New Yorkers had PTSD symptoms in the 30 days after the attack, but that this dropped to 0.6 per cent nine months after.
The study also showed those people who lost a family member or friend were just as likely as those who did not to recover from PTSD. The researchers found that age, employment status and life stressors were more important factors in determining recovery.
By Shaoni Bhattacharya, Denver © NewScientist.com
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