Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Post Trauma of Wartime

I have been thinking a lot about the post traumatic effects of wartime. One of the reasons I think it is so difficult to ameliorate this intense and ongoing stress is the inhumanity of the experience. At one time in human history, perhaps physical combat was a necessary evil - one clan or group needed to claim an area for their survival. Now, however, in some ways, we have evolved into complex thinkers with the ability to engage in verbal resolution and higher thought processes.

There seems to be a disparity between the capabilities of the human race and wartime activity. It must be inherently difficult to have the capacity for complex thought but have to take aim (literally) at an enemy. I wonder about the extent to which this conundrum plays a role in brain changes that are a result of experiencing intense stress. For example, the amygdala, which is involved in the memory of emotion, becomes overactive. The hippocampus, which functions as a memory consolidator, goes through an atrophy process that causes it to shrink (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012). Do these changes reflect a self-preserving mechanism within the brain? Or do these intense emotional and traumatic experiences somehow "short-circuit" proper functioning in the brain? The brain changes addressed in Laureate Education, Inc. (2012) cultivate nagging questions for me. For example, does the shrinking of the hippocampus reduce the impact of the emotional experience? I wonder about future research that will discover a way to induce or increase hippocampal growth (stimulate neurons) to restore (after treatment) the damage sustained by the trauma.

Stress, as we have learned, affects the serotonergic system (Dabhar, 2011; Wilson & Warise, 2008). In Parkinson's patients, within whom there is a loss or degeneration of dopaminergic neurons, some research has discovered the possibility of replacing this degeneration with new cells (Arias-Carrion, Freundlieb, Oertel, & Hoglinger, 2007). I look forward to reading about stimulating neurogenesis in PTSD patients to restore the system that manage emotional memories.

After searching for answers to some of my questions, I found DeCarolis & Eisch (2010) who may have asked some of the same questions. They believed a hippocampal-based treatment might be the answer to many mental illnesses such as PTSD. Hippocampal neurogenesis may have the potential to reduce or relieve the stronghold of trauma on this brain part, which may lead to the individual making a full recovery that would include the psychological as well as the biological factors of the effects of post-traumatic stress.


Arias-Carrion, O., Freundlieb, N., Oertel, W. H., & Hoglinger, G. U. (2007). Adult Neurogenesis and Parkinson's Disease. CNS & Neurological Disorders - Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets - CNS & Neurological Disorders), 6(5), 326-335. doi: 10.2174/187152707783220875

Dhabhar, F. S. (2011). Effects of stress on immune function: Implications for immunoprotection and immunopathology. In R. J. Contrada & A. Baum (Eds.), The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health (pp. 47–63). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

DeCarolis, N. A., & Eisch, A. J. (2010). Hippocampal neurogenesis as a target for the treatment of mental illness: A critical evaluation. Neuropharmacology, 58(6), 884-893. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2009.12.013

Laureate Education, Inc. (2012). Acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. [Handout].

Wilson, D. R., & Warise, L. (2008). Cytokines and their role in depression. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 44(4), 285–289.

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