Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is the name given by some to a condition in which various symptoms appear after a person has been exposed to any of a wide range of chemicals. The exposure may occur as a major event, such as a chemical spill, or from long-term contact with low-levels of chemicals: work environment, living near chemical agricultural sprays, inner city or industrial areas. People with MCS develop sensitivity and have reactions to the chemicals even at levels most people can tolerate.
Other names for this condition are environmental illness, sick building syndrome, hypersensitivity syndrome, twentieth century disease, total allergy syndrome and chemical sensitivity problem.
Is MCS a Real Disorder?
Historically, a syndrome called neurasthenia or “American nervousness” was described in 1880 which is similar to MCS. Modern discussion over the “chemical susceptibility problem” began in the 1950’s, when it was recognised that long term exposure to chemicals caused reaction to lower concentrations after sensitisation.
Today, many medical groups, including the CDC, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, do not consider MCS a distinct physical disorder. There are several reasons for this.
- Lack of clinical evidence to support a physical cause for the symptoms.
- MCS sufferers do not develop antibodies in response to chemical exposure, as is the case with an immune system, or allergic reaction.
- MCS sufferers have high rates of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders (mental disorders that are expressed through physical symptoms) About 50% of people with MCS meet the criteria for depression and/or anxiety disorders. Much of the controversy, then, centers on whether the symptoms associated with MCS are caused by physical or psychological factors.
However, a working definition for MCS was established in 1987. This ‘research definition’, created at a symposium on MCS, held by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) in the USA in 1991 which proposed MCS be known as:
- a change in health status identified by the patient (which rejects the notion of an association with a single event, but permits patient to identify some time period in which they felt well and a subsequent time period when they did not);
- symptoms triggered regularly by multiple stimuli;
- patients must have symptoms or signs related to chemical exposures at levels tolerated by the population at large;
- symptoms must have been experienced for at least six months;
- a defined set of symptoms reported by the patient;
- symptoms that occur in three or more organ symptoms;
- exclusion of patients with other conditions (psychiatric conditions were not necessarily considered exclusionary)
Symptoms of MCS
- respiratory symptoms - sneezing, sore throat etc
- mental confusion; dizziness
- irritability and depression
- short term memory loss
- gastro-intestinal tract difficulties
- cardiovascular irregularities
- genito-urinary problems
- muscle and joint pain
- Intolerance to heat or cold
- Skin rash or hive
This list is not meant to be exhaustive and other symptoms, such as poluria, have been reported.
It’s not possible to assess how many people suffer MCS as many healthcare practitioners do not recognize MCS as a disorder. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that about one-third of people working in sealed buildings claimed to be sensitive to one or more common chemicals. More women than men claim to have MCS, and it appears to occur most often in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years.
What Causes MCS?
The cause of MCS is unknown. Theories abound including immunological, psychosomatic, neurological inflammation, overload of biotransformation pathways (linked to free radical damage). One theory suggests that chemicals breathed in the nose affect an area of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system plays a role in emotions, motivated behavior, and memory, which may make a person more sensitive to a chemical odor previously encountered, a condition called cacosmia. But lets just call it chemical poisoning.
There are three distinct phases of MCS:
- initial signs and symptoms to low level exposure to chemicals which become less when chemical is avoided
- reversible sensitivity, with intensifying signs and symptoms after continuing exposure, but partial or total reversal of symptoms after recognition of the condition and avoidance of exposure; and
- permanent multiple chemical sensitivity, after substantial or intense exposure, escalation of symptoms and spreading of effects to other chemical exposures.
The Phenomenon of “spreading”
Often the sensitivity to one exposure spreads to a wider range of agents. This ’spreading’ or ‘broadening:’ phenomenon is fairly characteristic of MCS but causes problems for some treating medical practitioners, who find it difficult to believe that such a wide range of exceptionally low level exposures can induce such a wide variety of symptoms in many organ symptoms.
There are four main types of individuals in which heightened reactivity to chemical exposures has been reported -
Nature of exposure
|Industrial Workers||Acute or chronic exposure to industrial chemicals.||Primarily males.20 to 65 years old.|
|Office workers||Inadequate ventilation.Off gassing from construction or refurbishment materials or from office equipment.
|More females than males. White collar workers.20 to 65 years old. School children.|
|Contaminated communities||Toxic waste sites. Contamination by nearby industry sites.Aerial pesticide spraying. Groundwater contamination. Other community exposures.||Middle to lower class. All ages, male and female.Children or infants affected first or most, possible effects in pregnant women.|
|Individuals||Heterogenous.Indoor air (domestic). Pesticides, consumer products and drugs.||White upper to middle class, primarily females, 30-50 years old.|
Exposures that precipitate symptoms of MCS
Initially, individuals respond to one sort of chemical exposure, but if the spreading or broadening phenomenon occurs, the affected individual may respond to a much wider range of chemicals, and the exposures that precipitate symptoms become lower and lower. Table 2 shows a wide range of exposures that have been reported to provoke such symptoms in the chemically sensitive individual.
Type of Exposure
|Specific chemicals||Ammonia Bleach Formaldehyde Glutaraldehyde||Mineral Turpentine Petrol
Industrial air contaminants
Pesticides in building fumigation Photocopy toner
Sulphur residues and processing fumes Utility gas
Vapours from paints
|Domestic contaminants||Bed linen washed with detergents, or treated with starch Chloride in water
Cleaning products, disinfectants, bleach
Food additives/contaminants, flavouring agents, preservatives, and sweetening agents
Fragrances from perfumes and toiletries
Insect sprays and repellents
Laser printer and photocopier emissions
|Medication and drugs, including antibiotics, sulphonamides, aspirin,
Off-gases from some construction materials Plastic containers
Tobacco smoke (including passive smoking) Tar fumes (from roads and roof tar)
Vehicle exhausts (petrol and diesel)
Chronic Fatigue in MCS
Chronic fatigue is a common diagnosis outcome as the symptoms are somewhat similar. Fatigue, and chronic fatigue, is often part of multiple chemical sensitivity. CFS and MCS are conditions where the normal body mechanisms for dealing with exposure (either to a virus or chemicals) do not work properly, and getting well takes much longer than it would ordinarily.
Dealing with MCS
Nutritionally, following a traditional diet will help with MCS, especially:
Beet Kvass and Kombucha
Kombucha is rich in B vitamins and a substance called glucuronic acid which binds up environmental and metabolic toxins so that they can be excreted through the kidneys. Glucuronic acid is a natural acid that is produced by the liver and assists in the P450 enzyme system which the body employs for detoxification inside the cells. Kombucha simply supplies the body with more and boosts the natural detoxification process.
Beet Kvass also helps detoxify the Liver. If poisoning is severe and symptoms debilitating, best to start with small doses of Kvass, working up to 1/4 cup three times a day. Then Kombucha can be added. Take too much in the early stages and symptoms will increase due to the fermented beverages detoxifying effect, causing much suffering.
At least 1/2 cup daily will give you indole 3-carbinol (I3C), which helps block the production of toxic forms of estrogen and enhances the production of beneficial forms of estrogen. This is especially good for pesticide exposed people. This very popular recipe will start you on your sauerkraut journey.
Zinc Rich Foods
Zinc and other minerals help replace minerals bound by chemical and heavy metals. It’s rebuilding function and immune supporting function will assist greatly with recovery. Oysters are great source of zinc as is calf liver (both best raw) and lamb, turkey, pork, (all free range and pasture fed of course), dairy products and legumes.
Broth Daily and green juices for Magnesium as well as raw dairy foods will ensure minerals. Poisons bind to minerals so MCS sufferers need more.
Exposure to chemicals interfere with Vitamin A pathways, specifically the making of. Ensuring a diet high in Vitamin A will protect from further poisoning as well as recovery from current chemical load.
Take Cod Liver Oil every day and eat a diet rich in animal foods, especially the fatty portions like organs.
- Homeopathic cell salt Calc. Phos. 6X may offer protection, especially to the young.
- Tincture of milk thistle for liver support and protection against pesticides.
- Avoid Tartrazine (Yellow food dye) and Caffeine.
- Use natural personal products and home cleaners
- Try to use only wood and wool home furnishings and buy organic cotton sheets and clothes where you can.
- Avoid Marking pens and highlighters - use pencils instead
- Use saunas and light exercise (enough to sweat) to detoxify
- Use herbal repellants for mosquitoes: cedar wood, garlic, lemongrass, frankincense, cinnamon, geranium, eucalyptus, basil, rosemary, cloves, peppermint, lemon balm, onions, feverfew, thyme and marigold. Do not use citronella, it is toxic to humans.
- Install a bat house in your back yard. Bats can consume hundreds of mosquitoes and other insects per hour.
- Use tobacco juice instead of pesticies. Let 1/2 cup tobacco flakes stand in 1 quart water for several hours. Strain and place in a hand-held sprayer.
- Vinegar works wonders on weeds. Use a 10 percent concentration for young weeds, higher concentrations for older weeds. Try to coat all the leaves.
- A great way to get rid of ants, and possibly other household insects, is to put out the artificial sweetener aspartame.
Thanks to Dr Chris Winder, Associate Professor of School of Safety Science at Sydney University for the tables included in this report.
About the Author...
A Super Hero and one of many who have realised their true calling as saviors of humanity, healers of our connection with Nature and creators of Heaven on Earth. The Nourisher's gift is the re-spiritualisation of the 'process of recreation' we call eating. Mother of three Super Heroes in training and wife to her God incarnate, The Nourisher hails from the place of feminine healing, Byron Bay, Australia. She gathers together Life Creators from all over the globe at NourishedMagazine.com.au