UCSF tests new approach to treating veterans with PTSD

May 3, 2013 6:21:45 PM PDT
Scientists with the Veterans Administration and U.C. San Francisco are trying a new approach to help military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients usually receive counseling and medication. But, there may be a much more simple remedy.

Nothing beats an hour of PT on a warm spring day in San Francisco's Presidio. PT, short for physical training; that's what they call "working out" in the military, and how former Staff Sergeant Nick Garcia thinks of it.

"One of the biggest things I was chasing was the adrenaline rush," the Afghanistan veteran said.

You would feel that way too if you fought with and lost friends in Afghanistan. You might come back feeling more than that, actually.

"It cost me a lot of turmoil within my family," Garcia said. "Became really distant from one another, didn't want to be around them. I felt really isolated. I wanted to stay by myself. I drank for quite a bit when I first came home to suppress the feelings."

In short, he returned with post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Thomas Neylan specializes in that at the VA hospital.

"It's when you have something terrible happen to you and you are haunted by it," Dr. Neylan said.

Stuck in a loop, you might say. And as it turns out, research indicates exercise may be a way out of it.

Hence, this experiment exploring the possibilities of exercise as a cure; a section of the brain called the dentate nucleus contains a reservoir of stem cells.

"Exercise stimulates it," Dr. Neylan said.

The research, so promising, that singer-songwriter John Mayer showed up Friday. He has adopted PTSD as a cause, and not superficially. He's given time, and notice, and money; he was almost reluctant to be interviewed.

"I think if you have celebrity and you have a voice, it's the duty of that voice to have enough knowledge so you don't derail what it is you're talking about," Mayer said.

So now it's back to the PT for the experiment. No drugs, just a lot of effort, hoping to sweat away what might have seemed an intangible affliction, until these people started to live it.

"I thought it was kind of a myth and it was a sympathy case, more or less, until I started feeling it myself," Garcia said. "And I realized it's a real thing."


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