Multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, also known as MCS, is defined as “an acquired disorder characterized by recurrent symptoms referable to multiple organ systems, occurring in response to demonstrable exposure to many chemically unrelated compounds at doses far below those established in the general population to cause harmful effects. …(1) or “Sensitivity to chemicals. By sensitivity we mean symptoms or signs as related to chemical exposures at levels tolerated by the population at large, that is distinct from such well-recognized hypersensitivity phenomenon as IgG-mediated immediate hypersensitivity reactions, contact dermatitis, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Sensitivity may be expressed as symptoms and sign in one or more organ systems. Symptoms and signs wax and wane with exposure. (2)
So what does this mean in lay terms? Well, basically it means that growing numbers of people, myself included, are beginning to develop serious health problems from exposure to the common everyday chemicals we find in our environment. These chemicals can be items such as scented laundry soap or fabric softener, treated fabric, perfume, cologne, disinfectants, pesticides, herbicides, household cleaners, cigarette smoke, car exhaust, gas heat or other petroleum products, air fresheners, bleach, shampoos, toothpaste, food supply, new carpet, remodeling materials, wood smoke or cosmetics to name a few.
The prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivity in the population may be as high as 15% at this time, (4) and yet there is incredible backlash from the medical and chemical communities who try to deny and discredit the existence of this devastating illness because to acknowledge it would mean that global change would have to take place.
Before his passing, Dr. William Rea, was the leading medical specialist in Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome, and called it an environmentally triggered disease and explains that it may be acquired either by a one-time acute exposure or from low-level long-term exposures. As well as being chemically sensitive himself, Dr. Rea treated individuals with multiple chemical sensitivity in his clinic in Dallas, Texas. He pointed out that in 1987 the American industry poured 22 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, food, and water. He added further that the well-being of man is a function of his environment; living in polluted surroundings adversely affects our health, and as the number of dangerous environmental pollutants continues to increase so do the numbers of people sensitive to these contaminants. (3)
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is an acquired chronic syndrome described as a severe toxic allergic-like reaction to extremely low levels of chemicals in our environment. It has developed over the past four decades and is caused by overexposure to some 100,000 new, more toxic synthetic chemicals. Research contends that a victim’s body becomes unable to cleanse its tissues of chemicals to which it is exposed, either in small doses over time or from a single tremendous dose. (5)
It really should come as no surprise to us that this phenomenon is occurring, as our bodies are made of the same ingredients as our earth and the toxicity of our environment has been evident for a long time in our declining and deformed wildlife. Rachel Carson in her groundbreaking book Silent Spring first warned us of this over 35 years ago (6) and although we have been somewhat successful at raising some awareness of the consequences that our chemicalized society is having on our environment and wildlife, we have been leaving out a very important piece of the puzzle.
We are not pointing out that these toxins are not only poisoning nature but our own bodies as well. We are not immune to the destruction the environment is enduring. Wildlife is smaller and more vulnerable as they are exposed to the elements continuously and the deadly symptoms appeared in them first, and now we are beginning to see the same in human beings. The animals have tried to warn us, but we have not heard them. They cannot speak our language, but they have been warning us very loudly in their own language.
Another profound cutting edge book, Our Stolen Future, which has not received the attention it deserves written by two leading environmental scientists and an award-winning environmental journalist give a staggering account of the messages our wildlife has been giving us and provide overwhelming evidence that synthetic chemicals are endocrine disruptors and they are not only upsetting normal reproductive and developmental processes, decreasing sperm count, increasing hormone-related cancers, endometriosis, birth defects, sexual abnormalities, but are also threatening our actual survival. (7) Their conclusions are startling and terrifying and should serve as a wake-up call to all individuals.
Cindy Duehring, a sufferer of multiple chemical sensitivity deceased at the age of 36, after a long struggle with multiple chemical sensitivity complications, was a leading researcher and writer at Environmental Access Research and took this quote from Environmental Neurotoxicity in an article titled, “Screening for Nervous System Damage from Chemical Exposure” “it was a most dangerous illusion that our society has brought forth, in the false belief, that the chemical ingredients in our everyday home and office consumer products, from cosmetics and perfumes to cleaners and carpets, have been tested for health effects to protect the public. Most of the chemicals have never been tested and are not under any regulation. There are three new chemical compounds introduced in the United States every day. Pre-marketing testing of compounds as potential neurotoxicants have serious deficiencies. Many of these neurotoxic compounds came into use before the passage of the Toxic Substance Control Act in 1976 and remain untested and are still not required to be tested.” (8)
As the very wise Chief Seattle said to his people in a tribal assembly in the Pacific Northwest in 1854 “We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. We know the white people do not understand our ways. Our portion of land is the same to them as the next, for they are strangers who come in the night and take from the land whatever they need. This we know. The Earth does not belong to humans; humans belong to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the children of the Earth. Humans do not weave the web of life; they are merely a strand in it. Whatever they do to the web, they do to themselves.” In conclusion, he added, “When the thicket and the eagle, the swift pony and the hunt are gone from the land, it will mark the end of living and the beginning of survival.” (4) This could not be more true and is evidenced very profoundly in multiple chemical sensitivity.
As a whole, we are not hearing the warnings that the wildlife is giving us. Hopefully, we don’t all have to become poisoned before we listen and learn. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome is only the tip of the iceberg and if society does not begin to hear the messages of the earth, then someday we will see human beings on the endangered species list.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Symptoms
The symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity are vast and numerous and usually affect many organ systems. Enzyme pathways may be inhibited and liver detoxification pathways become overloaded. The blood-brain barrier is affected (3) and neurological, immunological, respiratory, endocrine, cardiovascular, genitourinary, and gastrointestinal systems are likely to be affected with the central nervous system almost always being affected. (4)
Symptoms may include depression, fatigue, headache, migraines, difficulty concentrating, irritability, short term memory loss, lack of coordination, shaking, trembling, visual and verbal disturbances, muscle pain, difficulty breathing, rashes, anxiety, impaired mobility, itching, disorientation, confusion, food sensitivity, excessive drowsiness, constipation, diarrhea, earaches, heart-pounding, hypothyroidism, learning disabilities, elevated blood pressure, increased pulse and many more.
Individuals affected with multiple chemical sensitivity are forced to make profound changes in lifestyle and diet and endure multiple losses in life as they knew it, including their livelihood, identity, friends, and sometimes even family members. Most of those afflicted are no longer able to be in environments that contain the above-listed chemicals, which are found almost everywhere. Therefore, this means that most public places are off-limits to them, their social life becomes extremely limited and there are very few places if any that they are capable of obtaining employment. It becomes increasingly difficult to function in this chemicalized world at all.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Treatment
Many people have multiple chemical sensitivities but are not aware of it, because the average medical doctor is not trained in this area. They will typically tell you that your symptoms are the result of stress or depression or may even call you a hypochondriac. To find a doctor who can make a diagnosis of chemical sensitivity, you need to see a doctor of environmental medicine that can be found at the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. Some physicians who practice Functional Medicine are knowledgeable and capable on this topic as well.
Once the body begins to break down from environmental toxins and chemical sensitivities develop, it is very difficult to make a complete recovery. The main method of treatment consists of avoiding chemicals, which means the life of the individual is profoundly altered, permanently. So prevention is the best medicine.
The best step you can take to protect yourself from developing multiple chemical sensitivities is to adopt a green lifestyle. Environmental toxins are at the root of MCS, so, therefore, they must be eliminated. This means at a minimum you should be using environmentally friendly and natural personal and health care products, cleaning supplies, and yard care. No pesticides, herbicides, air fresheners, perfume, or cologne and eat an organic diet as much as possible. The construction of your home should be made as non-toxic and green as possible, mold should be avoided and all dental procedures should be done by a biologic dentist.
However, MCS is two-pronged. On one hand, the environmental toxins you are exposed to must be reduced, but on the other hand, is how capable your body is of detoxing these chemicals. A variety of treatment modalities have been found to be helpful in improving the level of sensitivity and promoting some degree of healing in some individuals by improving the detoxification system.
Most chemically sensitive people have an abundance of nutritional deficiencies, and these deficiencies lead to a detoxification system that does not function properly, which together results in Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Addressing nutritional deficiencies as quickly as possible is of the utmost importance. The longer deficiencies are present the harder they are to correct, the less effective the detoxification system is and the more damage that is done to the body. As sensitivities begin to snowball, the individual often becomes sensitive to the nutrients needed to correct their biochemistry, which leaves them in a catch 22 situation.
Some tests that every MCS person should have include: the Organic Acids Test, RBC Mineral, Amino Acid Plasma, Hair Analysis, GI Effects, and Fatty Acid Profile. You can learn more about these tests by visiting my Functional Medicine Page. These tests will tell you which nutrients you are deficient in, which systems aren’t functioning properly and how capable you are of detoxing chemicals. Then nutrients can be used to correct or improve the issue.
Another vital test for the chemically sensitive individual is called Detoxigenomics. This test can tell you if you have any genetic problems that are impairing your detoxification capabilities and steps that can be taken to improve them.
The ALCAT test is a simple test kit that can be sent to your home and test you for 10 of the most common chemicals in the environment, as well as sensitivity to mold, foods, and food additives, which typically accompany MCS.
It is believed that malfunctioning adrenal glands, mitochondria dysfunction, and heavy metal toxicity may play a crucial role in MCS and some people find improvements in their condition, by supporting their adrenals and detoxing heavy metals.
Most people with MCS have candida overgrowth and the toxins that candida emits overloads the liver and adds to or causes sensitivity to chemicals. Significant improvements in sensitivity levels can often be found by addressing candida with the candida diet, antifungals, etc.
Autonomic nervous system dysfunction is always a primary component of MCS, and any steps that help restore balance to the autonomic nervous system are helpful for many, such as mindfulness, mindfulness-based meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, and nutritional support to correct deficiencies. Some new treatments on the horizon that target the autonomic nervous and have been exceptionally helpful for some include Amygdala RetrainingTM and Dynamic Neural Retraining.TM However, it’s important to note that MCS is a complex, multi-faceted condition and the autonomic nervous system is only one system involved.
It’s crucial that you read how toxins make you sick, to understand the complex process that takes place in your body and all the steps needed for recovery.
The degree of healing that one can acquire depends on many things: How competent your health care provider is and whether they guide you to the most appropriate tests and treatment methods. How much money do you have to spend on tests and treatment. The level of damage that has been done to your body by chemicals. How long you’ve been dealing with the situation. Your nutritional status and how long you’ve been nutrient depleted. The types of toxins and the level of toxins you’ve been exposed to. Whether you have the money and ability to acquire safe housing. For many, who lack resources, MCS is a progressive condition when these underlying issues cannot be addressed.
Learn More about MCS
A comprehensive overview of MCS.
A great handout to educate family members and friends.
MCS Fact Sheet
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity What it is, what it is not, and how it is manifested.
Resources for Living with MCS
- Living with Chronic Illness
- Coping with Chronic Pain
- Living Life to the Fullest
- Green Living Tips to Save Your Health and the Planet
- Cognitive Reframing Techniques
- Living in Spite of Your Symptoms
- Managing Cognitive Impairment
- Environmental Health
- Chemicals in Common Fragrances
- Health Hazards of Dryer Exhaust
- Mold and Your Health
- Deep Breathing Exercises
- Using Gratitude to Enhance Your Health
- Inspirational Quotes
- Humor and Inspiration to Enhance Your Health
- Benefits of Meditation
- Getting Back to Nature
- The Healing Power of Love
- Managing Stress
- Using Brainwaves to Manage Chronic Pain
- Mindfulness – A Powerful Tool for Improving Health and the Quality of Life
- Meet Other MCS People
Use Mindfulness-based Meditation to Improve Health, Manage Symptoms, Increase Spiritual Growth, and Develop a Richer, More Meaningful Life