Saturday, May 26, 2012

How Does Someone Become Chemically Sensitive?

It seems likely that chemical sensitivity has a variety of etiologies, similar to the way that nausea may be caused by such diverse factors as food poisoning, chemotherapy, and pregnancy. At the heart of the matter, however, is generally a problem with the body's detoxification system. When people are unable to fully process toxins they accumulate and cause damage and symptoms.

Despite the determined efforts of some to paint MCS as a psychological disorder, there is no shortage of evidence proving it to be a very real physical condition. For instance:

  • Animal models point to a physical cause. Studies show that animals exposed to repeated low levels of chemicals over a period of time can become extremely reactive and sensitive to minute traces of those chemicals.

  • People who became sick after exposure to certain chemicals in Operation Desert Storm were found to have lower amounts of a specific enzyme than others who had higher amounts and weren’t sickened.

  • Women with a genetic profile involving two genes associated with detoxifying toxic compounds were found to be over 18 times more likely to have MCS compared to women with a different genetic makeup. Women with variations in just one of the implicated genes were also more likely to develop chemical sensitivities.

  • Genetic abnormalities can themselves be caused by chemicals. Many chemicals are capable of mutating genes or turning them on or off.

  • Lab tests of some MCS sufferers reveal abnormal activity in one or more of the eight enzymes involved in heme production. (Heme is the primary component of hemoglobin in red blood cells.)

  • Nasal abnormalities consistent with chronic inflammation have been found in patients with MCS. Damaged mucosa enhances absorption of inhaled chemicals, and often permits rapid entry into the brain.

  • Testing often shows people with chemical sensitivities to be “pathological detoxifiers” in which Phase I of liver detoxification is faster than Phase II, leading to a buildup of toxic metabolites in the body.

  • Groups of independent researchers have found distinct abnormalities of brain metabolism in people with MCS. The neurotoxic pattern is very different from the abnormalities reported in psychiatric disease.

  • Tests measuring blood flow to the brain (SPECT scans) show differences between MCS patients and normal controls. MCS patients demonstrate severe deterioration when they are challenged by chemicals in concentrations found in everyday situations.

Certain people may be more likely than others to become chemically sensitive, but no one is immune to the danger. We all have finite bodies capable of detoxifying a limited chemical burden, and it's impossible to know who might be one exposure away from exceeding that limit. Although it's wise to reduce and eliminate all chemical exposures, some substances are especially likely to set people on the road to MCS. These are known as "sensitizers."  Pesticides and formaldehyde (found in many personal care, cleaning, building, and furniture products) are known sensitizers that are very important to avoid.

People with chemical sensitivities need your help to function in this world. Those without chemical sensitivities need your help to stay that way. You, yourself, may be one chemical exposure away from developing MCS. Reducing chemical exposures is the right thing to do for everyone's sake.

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