Escaping a Toxic World: Treating and Preventing MCS
Lindsay peeked out of her room and said, “Remember, don’t wear any perfume or put any hairspray in your hair. Anna is chemically sensitive!”
Fifteen years ago I was going to a party with my best friend, Lindsay. The party was at a house specially built-in the countryside for her friend Anna. Anna had what is called multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Just living within city limits triggered symptoms of chronic pain and nausea.
In multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a person develops markedly negative reactions to everyday chemical exposures. These include exposures to:
- Pesticides in buildings, in gardens, on our food, and on pets
- Chemical cleaners
- Petrochemical heating systems
- Industrial emissions
- A myriad of others chemicals
I’ll never forget wondering what it would be like to never be able to spray on my favorite perfume every day. Little did I know, years later I would understand how toxic perfume could be.
About 7 years ago, I noticed headaches while cuddling up to my husband when he was wearing cologne. I got more headaches when I walked through the perfume section of a department store. Soon, the perfume that I had worn for years was giving me a headache. I even noticed a headache after my mom washed one of my shirts in her scented detergent. All the triggers were pointing toward a chemical sensitivity to synthetic perfumes.
But I’ve often thought of Anna now that I have experienced my own chemical sensitivity. Anna is not an anomaly in her suffering. She is one of nearly 74 million people who suffer from some sort of chemical sensitivity.
It’s likely that you, or someone you know belongs to the millions that experience illness with chemicals. Do you know what is even more alarming? The chronic illness you may be dealing with can be a direct result from these chemical sensitivities. The good news is with simple lifestyle modifications, your illness can disappear. Eliminate the root cause and you can reverse the progress of chemical sensitivity.
Chemical Sensitivity Defined
Multiple chemical sensitivity occurs when there is an adverse reaction to chemicals in the air, food and water. Generally, these chemicals are harmless to the bulk of the population. But when a person becomes increasingly sensitive to a wide variety of chemical substances, a chronic medical condition or state of illness can result. MCS goes by other names as well. Some of these include:
- Toxic Injury (TI)
- Toxic Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT)
- Chemical Injury Syndrome (CS)
- Environmental Illness (EI)
- Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance (IEI)
- Gulf War Syndrome
It is rare that someone is born with MCS. This intolerance to multiple chemicals is typically triggered by a trauma, or large exposure to a toxic chemical. Many times this occurs during a home or office renovation without proper ventilation. Other times, on-the-job hazards expose people to these life-changing chemicals.
Though the cause cannot always be clearly defined, researchers have found that it is twice as common in women than in men and typically occurs after the age of 30.
MCS is an illness that is caused by heavy industrialism. Our industries continue to dump wastes into the air, water and food. As a result, a certain number of people get sick from exposure to these chemicals. In a recent study in the U.S., 11.2% of the respondents reported sensitivities to common chemicals… and this number continues to grow!
The most common sensitivities in those with MCS include:
- Cigarette smoke
- Perfumes and fragrances
- Air fresheners
- Scented soaps
- New carpet or flooring
- Fresh paint
- Clothing washed in scented detergent or fabric softener
- Computers, printers, and copiers
- Common household cleaners
- And much more (nail polish, moth balls, vinyl plastic, hair spray, etc.)
As you can see, this list is common in nearly every home and workplace! This causes those who suffer from MCS to feel as though they cannot escape their illness. Many choose isolation and, sadly, become hermits inside their safe home environment.
It is important for every person with MCS to try to create as safe and chemical free-living space as possible. Housing may be the single most crucial element in survival and possible improvement for someone with MCS. This cleanup requires learning about everyday toxins and safer alternatives to perfume, cigarette smoke, air fresheners, pesticides and cleaning products to create a pure and chemical-free living space.
Ironically, environmentalist fight for a less toxic atmosphere. Yet, inside our very homes are where we are exposed to the most pollution. Sadly, most people are oblivious to the chemicals that are chipping away at their health and eating away inside their property line.
City dwellers are subject to industrial emissions, vehicle exhausts, toxins used by neighbors such as lawn chemicals, and a myriad of other poisons. Rural dwellers are exposed to farm chemicals that include pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, which are extremely toxic.
You may not see the adverse effects of these toxicants until the often paralyzing symptoms of MCS or a chronic illness results.
Chronic Disease and MCS
The underlying characteristic of MCS is an abnormal or increased capacity to detect chemicals in the environment, primarily through smell and taste.
Because of the trauma from chemical exposure, the central nervous system and immune system are damaged. Simply from overexposure, the nervous system and immune system go into overdrive in someone with MCS. As a result, the brain remains on hyper alert and begins to react to the slightest exposure.
The over-sensitive brain leaves the person susceptible to the smallest whiff, touch or taste of a chemical substance. People can suffer delayed neurological damage that may include disturbances in sensory experience, motor function, speech, sleep, and emotional stability. Often, the symptoms continue to worsen over time leaving people with MCS miserable and without hope.
Typical symptoms of MCS include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Tiredness, lethargy and fatigue
- Sore throat
- Memory and cognition impairment
- Headaches and migraines
- Visual disturbances
- Skin irritation (rashes, hives, etc)
- Anxiety or irritability
- Gastrointestinal issues (diarrhea, vomiting, nausea)
Functional Somatic Syndrome
MCS falls into a category of illnesses labeled functional somatic syndrome. Other illnesses in this category include fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. These illnesses often overlap each other and exhibit similar symptoms. It is fairly common that people who have MCS also have either fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue. IBS is another illness that often accompanies MCS.
Many people diagnosed with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia note a decrease in their symptoms when reducing exposure to chemicals. If you or someone you know suffers from one of these illnesses, then follow these steps to decrease MCS. The tips provided here to lowering your exposure to chemicals can improve the pain and fatigue associated with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and IBS.
Some have speculated that undiagnosed Lyme disease can be a cause of MCS. It is estimated that over 18 million people in the U.S. have Lyme disease. In most cases, it is not diagnosed. It is a misconception that Lyme is only spread by ticks and identified by a bullseye rash. More than half of those with Lyme never had a bullseye rash. Also, the spirochete (bacteria) behind Lyme disease can spread via fleas, mosquitoes, mites, food and sexual contact.
Lyme can hide in our tissues giving a false negative on the Western blot test. However, science is discovering new and more accurate tests for Lyme disease. If you suffer from MCS, I recommend one of these newer and more accurate testing methods. The iSpot Test is a good example and is more accurate identifying whether or not Lyme is truly the culprit of your MCS.
Gulf War Syndrome and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have a connection to MCS, as well. In 1990, 700,000 went to war and 250,000 came home with chronic illness. Even the CDC established a connection between sick Gulf War veterans and chemical sensitivities.
These veterans were exposed to a plethora of toxic chemicals in pesticides, vaccines, anti-nerve gas pills and much more. Unfortunately, these symptoms did not end with the Gulf War. Servicemen continue to be exposed to toxic chemicals while on deployment.
Research has suggested a common etiology between post traumatic stress disorder and multiple chemical sensitivity, as well. PTSD is a debilitating condition that follows a traumatic event. While not everyone with MCS has PTSD, some most certainly do. The ability to cope with trauma therapy and achieve positive outcomes is low, until the mind-body and environmental stress load is reduced. These two illnesses overlap often enough that researchers are suggesting further study into common causes.
Detoxifying your Home Life
Even if you don’t suffer from MCS, lowering your toxic exposure in your environment can still dramatically improve your health. Chemical sensitivities often mimic or induce other illnesses. You could currently be suffering from migraines, dizzy spells or joint pain and have no idea that chemical sensitivity is to blame.
Reducing toxic exposure is beneficial for everyone, from infants to the elderly. Even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is thought to be the result of accidental poisoning due to toxic gases released from baby mattresses.
It is never too early, nor too late to start reducing the chemicals in your home! After all, home is where your health is!
When I first started experiencing headaches from synthetic fragrances, I took dramatic steps in lowering chemical exposure in my home for my own safe and the safety of my family. I began to eliminate excess chemicals in my body care, detergents, and household cleaners long before I ever manifested severe multiple chemical sensitivity symptoms. I’ve found in lowering my exposure to chemicals that I’ve never needed to sacrifice cleaning power, pleasant scents, or even taste!
If you look closely, you will be surprised how toxic your home truly is. MCS inducing chemicals hide out in everything from your household cleaners to the mattress you sleep on! Below are the 5 most important things in your home that need to be replaced in order to detoxify your life and bring about a new sense of health and well-being!