Blog: Hope 4 Heroes – News – Post Title: PTSD: Mental Illness or Physical Wound?”

Hippos, Dental Floss and Greek Gyru Sandwiches – Breaking down the complicated biology of the PTSD-affected brain. 

Easy-to-read Text -only version – (Download original published post at end of this text-only version.)

Mental JPG Illness ImagePTSD: “Mental Illness or Physical Wound? The difference in diagnosis could mean PTSD stigma will one day be erased.

Recent findings from a joint San Francisco VA Medical Center and UC San Francisco (UCSF) study reveals that a specific region of the hippocamus part of the brain known as the CA3/dentate gyrus is more than 11 percent smaller on average in those veterans with PTSD.  The results of the study were published in the March, 2010 issue of General Psychiatry.

What does that mean, exactly? You can read the full article (or the actual study if you’re so inclined) and try to decipher all the complicated biology, but I’d be happy to give you a dumbed-down version—after much stretching of my own pea-sized “dentate gyrus.”

Hopefully my cranky old high-school biology teacher is not still alive to read this (if she is, scientists will want to study her brain since she would now be about 120 years old.)

Hippos on Campus, Dental Floss and Greek Gyru Sandwiches: Defining terms of the PTSD-affected Brain

  •  The CA3/dentate gyrus refers to two sections of the hippocamus, but since they are closely intertwined, they cannot be “imaged” separately. The only thing that’s important to remember as it pertains to PTSD suffers, is that (a) both areas are directly affected by stress (meaning the changes can actually show up in PTSD sufferers); (b) the combined CA3/dentate gyrus area of the brain has now been proven to be 11 percent smaller on average in veterans with PTSD and (c) dentate gyrus, which contains adult stem cells, has the ability to create new neurons.


  •  The CA1 region of the hippocampus, which shrinks as a normal part of aging, was not significantly affected in the veterans with PTSD, according to the VA Medical Center/UCSF study.


  • The ability to create neurons is a good thing for PTSD sufferers. It means, in essence, that these changes might actually be reversible through treatment.


  • Since these changes can be both measured and reversible, that means that PTSD can one day be diagnosed as a measurable, and possibly treatable PHYSICAL WOUND vs. a form of MENTAL ILLNESS.


  • The reason those suffering from combat-related PTSD–as well as their families–want this diagnosis to be changed from that of a mental affliction vs. a physical one, is that the new classification will make a HUGE difference in the way soldiers are treated (or not treated) by the existing military machinery, including the VA. It could also make the difference how soldiers are treated by other soldiers. In other words, “Cry babies” or “buttercups” who need to just toughen up and rejoin the ranks of their blood brothers will be differentiated between those soldiers suffering from a quantifiable and measurable affliction as valid as a missing body part or any other such war-related physical injury.

And there you have it…a shrinking brain that can be measured might just mean a measure of justice for soldiers suffering from PTSD. And that can come none too soon.

Read my blog post on whether genetic engineering offers any real hope for PTSD suffers: Ready for Battle? Can genetic engineering “vaporize” PTSD?

Read more: Stress-affected brain region is smaller in veterans with PTSD

Download this published post here: 

About seekandfind

I'm a strategic storyteller/copywriter who is divinely wired to be idea-driven, strategic minded & cause motivated.

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