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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: How To Reduce Your Toxic Load

Are you living or working in a sick building?  Or have you noticed over the years that you are increasingly sensitive and reactive to chemicals and synthetics?  Environmental illness, also known as multiple chemical sensitivity, is becoming more commonplace.

Sheila Bastien, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist who has served on the California Senate Subcommittee Advisory Panel on Environmental Illness/Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.  According to Dr. Bastien, misuse, overuse and inappropriate disposal of chemicals can result in toxic overexposure for many individuals.  In sensitive individuals, such exposure creates an overload, resulting in a breakdown of the body’s resistance.  The symptoms can affect multiple organ systems.

Although some chemical exposure is the result of criminal negligence, more often it is a matter of our own mistaken belief in “modern” materials that are found everywhere – laminated plywood, formaldehyde on fabrics and furniture, nylons and polyesters for wrinkle-free garments.  In an article on nervous system damage form chemical exposure, Cindy Duehring of the Environmental Access Research Network says that three new chemical compounds are introduced in the U.S. every day.  The public mistakenly believes that whatever is marketed has been proven safe.

According to William Rea, M.D., author of Chemical Sensitivities, modern technology has put astronauts into space but, ironically, this very accomplishment called other so-called “advances” into question.  Viewing earth from space revealed that our blue planet, on closer inspection, was environmentally polluted.  Dr. Rea says that when symptoms of chemical sensitivity are treated early, they are almost always reversible.  However, as organ involvement increases, the problems become more complex.  For example, a mechanic who is constantly exposed to car exhaust might develop headaches, fatigue and general malaise.  Left untreated, one organ system can be severely affected, resulting, for instance, in kidney failure.  Dr. Rae wrote that the factors that influence the onset of chemical sensitivity are total body toxic load, the nutritional state, and accumulation of toxic substances in the body, as well as other factors.

Specific exposures, such as when there is an industrial leak, can cause immune abnormalities, breathing problems and cognitive disturbances such as both verbal and visual memory, attention and concentration.  However, many sensitive individuals experience these and other symptoms, including irritability, anxiety, depression, chest pain, muscle spasms, joint aches, confusion and difficulty in calculating, without ever having this type of single overexposure.  It is the total toxic load that impacts them.  Often these individuals are predisposed because of low thyroid activity.  They may also have nutritional deficiencies.

Environmental medicine specialist Doris Rapp, M.D., author of Is This Your Child’s World?: How You Can Fix the Schools and Homes That Are Making Your Child Sick (Bantam. 1997) and several of their books notes that the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has identified 884 toxic chemicals in personal care products alone.  More significantly, chemicals in school buildings can affect a child’s attention and mental abilities.

If you or someone you know is affected by multiple chemical sensitivity, there are things you can do.  By being aware of choices and changes you can make individually, chemical sensitivity can be held at bay.  For instance, avoid home products that off-gas, such as synthetic carpets, choosing wood floors and throw rugs made of natural fibers.

Consumer advocate Debra Lynn Dadd, in her book Home Safe Home: Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Everyday Toxics and Harmful Household Products (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1997) outlines the health effects and safe alternatives to chemicals in cleaning products, tap water, food, building materials, poorly ventilated rooms, pesticides and more.  For instance, not only are pesticides the number two cause of household poisonings in the U.S., but their use also dramatically adds to our toxic load.  Pesticides are stored in the fatty tissues of the body and are therefore able to accumulate to very high levels.  If your home has insects, safe solutions include repairing leaky faucets and clogged drains so that insects don’t use your home as the “neighborhood bug bar” or getting rid of pests in the garden by using organic gardening practices.

You can also boost your immune system with proper supplementation.  Even then, beware heavily advertised vitamins that are full of artificial fillers, colorings and preservatives.  Also, consider a program of detoxification eliminating certain foods and adding healthy plant-based foods and herbal supplements.  Dr. Rapp recommends a program of cleansing and rebuilding the body in order to strengthen the immune system, remove toxicity, balance emotions and increase energy.  Chemical sensitivity is a growing concern.  Take stock and take steps to restore your health.

Visit Dr. Rapp’s website.

Reprinted with permission from Alternative Medicine Magazine, ‘What’s Hot’, 9/25/00.  For subscription information call 800-333-4325.

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Most recent revision September 11, 2002