Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is another illness of our modern times. And, as with the Sick Building Syndrome, the medical profession is at a loss to explain the exact cause and mechanism. There is plenty of guesswork and plenty of suspicion, however, and the subject is highly controversial. Scientist can’t even agree to one name, because it also known as chemical hypersensitivity, environmental illness, environmental maladaptation syndrome and many other names. For our purpose let’s stick to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, the term that is more widely used.
Will you be branded as a hypochondriac?
So, what chance have patients when they explain to their medical practitioners that they are always tired, suffer from muscle aches and can’t sleep properly? Will they be branded as ‘hypochondriacs,’ persons who are overly anxious about their health and should be treated with anti-depressants? The good news is that a tidal wave of patients forces the authorities to research the syndrome, and this is happening right now.
Scientists know what the illness is not: it is not an inflammation, allergy, intoxication, or infection, and it is not inherited. In theory, MCS is an acquired multisystem illness, i.e. it doesn’t affect only one organ but several body systems, and it is caused by low levels of chemicals, in particular those that are abundant in the indoor air. While scientists can prove the existence of the chemicals in the environment, no medical tests can substantiate the existence of MCS, though. A diagnosis is, therefore, subjective and relies on the symptoms a patient displays and describes during a consultation.
The body is like a storage cabinet for toxic substances. A drawer may contain lead or mercury, while another may store modern chemical compounds, such as dioxins or pesticides. Each individual substance accumulates over the years until the drawer is full and eventually overcomes the body’s tolerance. The person will then experience a predictable toxic reaction to a particular chemical. This is the reaction in a normal person. In a highly sensitive person, however, the drawers don’t have to overflow at all. They may contain only traces of several chemicals, but it appears that the interaction of several substances may be enough to sensitize a person. Symptoms may not develop for some time, but prolonged exposure will eventually result in a multitude of acute reactions.
Up to 10% of the general population may suffer from MCS.
The latest theories suggest that MCS is a disorder of the immune system and the nervous system and that psychological problems may also play a part. According to German research, associated psychological disorders are a possible response to the real or perceived dismissive feedback some patients may receive from community members.
Not much is known about the prevalence of the illness. Some researchers suggest a number of up to 10% of the general population may suffer from MCS, others conclude that the figure is less than 1%. Nevertheless, women appear to make up the bulk of people complaining about MCS; also at highest risk are children, the elderly and people with underlying illnesses.
MCS appears to affect mostly the brain and nerve tissues in the central spinal cord (central nervous system), the lungs and the mucous layer in nose and throat (respiratory disorders), or the stomach and the intestines (gastrointestinal problems). In addition to typical allergic reactions, a person may experience: lack of energy, weakness, depressed mood, sleep disturbances, memory loss, dizziness, headache, aching joints or muscles, altered sense of smell. The symptoms vary with every person and can be mild or may be so severe that they interfere with daily life.
No matter what theory is in vogue, the fact is that people with MCS suffer and are in need of care and sympathy.
Unfortunately, because the cause can’t be accurately established, no specific treatment exists for MCS. Some medical practitioners suggest to strengthen the immune system, while others prefer to detoxify a patients body, and many so-called alternative methods have also been tried. There are, however, a few measures that appear to have some success.
A person may suspect that certain chemicals are the reason for their symptoms. Avoiding these chemicals at home and at work is an obvious conclusion, but not always easy. In this book I give several suggestions to improve indoor air quality, this by itself may rid a room of certain chemicals, or at least may dilute it below a person’s sensitivity threshold. In addition, help your body by reducing the total chemical load and strengthening the immune system.
Dr Robert McEvoy, in his book Allergies and other environmental illnesses, provides some tips for medical practitioners, which I abbreviated and adapted as follows:
Avoid food that contains chemicals and have a balanced diet
Drink purified water
Don’t use household, hobby or building products that may emit chemical fumes
Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoking
Don’t use unvented heaters or cookers
Improve indoor air quality
Avoid stress, participate in anti-stress therapies
Ensure regular sleep
Treat a sour mood with enjoyable activities.
He also advises to avoid the use of medication, if possible. Medication can contain chemicals that may worsen the symptoms. Instead he advocates food rich in antioxidants or the use of supplements. Antioxidants help reduce the numbers of damaging free radicals in the body, which may improve the chemical tolerance of a person.