Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

By Rabin Prusty, MSCE

Environmental Engineer

 

Some people develop Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) through exposure to toxic chemicals. A person with low tolerance to toxic chemicals will develop MCS with exposure to certain dose of toxic chemicals, while a person with higher tolerance to toxic chemicals will not develop MCS with exposure to same dose of toxic chemicals. Factors related to personís health are usually responsible for low tolerance to toxic chemicals. The health related factors to be considered are, personís overall physical health, whether the person has severe allergy problem, family history of any allergies, family history of any chronic disease, family history of any genetic disease, etc. By doing an in-depth analysis of these factors, it will be possible to find a clue as to why the person has low tolerance to toxic chemicals. Low tolerance to toxic chemicals can also be linked to a specific gene, which might not be functioning properly. Most likely, because women are usually less tolerant to toxic chemicals, they are more susceptible to get MCS. The key to survival for somebody with MCS is breathing clean and fresh air and minimizing exposure to any chemicals or substance, which will give severe reaction.

When a person with MCS puts some chemicals into his or her system, the body processes the chemicals and while processing the chemicals, the body violently reacts to the chemicals. These reactions usually are brain reactions followed by cardiac reaction. Severe reactions to chemicals will cause further damage to the system. This is why, If the person continue to live in the same unfavorable environment where he or she got MCS, then his or her health will continue to deteriorate.

MCS occurs in 4 stages. MCS starts with mild reactions to few things, and depending on personís physical health and the environment where he or she lives, it gradually progresses to severe reactions to practically everything.

Stage 1: In Stage 1 of MCS, the person will start to react to chemicals and substances in the environment. The person will be able to take medication and can be treated for common illness. There will be reactions to chemicals and medication, but those reactions will be very mild. There will be no reactions to foods.

Stage 2: In Stage 2 of MCS, the person will experience severe reactions to chemicals and substances in the environment. The person will also start to react to more things which he or she used to tolerate fairly well. The person will violently react to medication and can not be treated by traditional treatment for common illness without experiencing severe reaction. The person will not be able to take any medication internally or externally. The person will start to react to foods.

Stage 3: In Stage 3 of MCS, the person will start to react to practically everything in the environment. The person has to wear a facemask to filter some of the chemicals from the air he or she breaths. Only in a controlled environment the person may be able to breathe without a facemask. But the moment the person comes outside of the controlled environment and faces the real world, the person will need a facemask to breathe. Some of the foods will give violent reaction.

Stage 4: In stage 4 of MCS, the person will not be able to breathe clean and fresh air even through a facemask. The person can only survive by breathing oxygen 24 hours a day. The person will be able to eat only limited number of food items without experiencing severe reaction.

By breathing clean and fresh air and minimizing exposure to any chemicals or substance, which will give severe reaction, a person can considerably slowdown the progression of MCS. The life style of a person with MCS would be severely restricted as that person goes to a higher Stage of MCS. As medicines will give severe to life-threatening reactions, a person with MCS should try to treat common illness using Alternative Medicine, which will give mild reaction. In Alternative Medicine, also known as nutritional healing, vitamins, minerals and herbs are used to treat common illness.

People with MCS usually have low nutritional level, which does not provide enough resistance to infection and disease. When a person with MCS gets any kind of infection or disease, his or her hypersensitivity will increase tremendously and he or she will experience severe reaction to many things. It is very important for a person with MCS to take vitamins and minerals regularly to boost his or her nutritional level. The most common vitamins which might help, are Vitamin C (500 to 1500 mg/day), Beta-carotene (10,000 to 25,000 IU/day), and Vitamin E (200 to 400 IU/day). The minerals, which might help, are Calcium and Magnesium. The person should take only those vitamins and minerals which he or she can tolerate with mild reaction. Coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant, is an immunologic stimulant, plays a crucial role in generation of cellular energy, increases circulation, and has beneficial effects on cardiovascular system. Coenzyme Q10 (10 to 60 mg/day) will help the person a lot in coping with MCS. While taking any nutrient, the person should start with the lower recommended dose and gradually increase the dose to a level, which the person can take without experiencing severe reaction.

Reactions to chemicals

A person with MCS usually encounters small reactions to chemicals on a daily basis. For example, suppose a person with MCS is standing on a street and another person wearing heavy perfume will just pass by. The person with MCS will immediately get a brain reaction and start to feel uncomfortable. This is because the person with MCS has put minute quantity of chemicals present in the perfume to his or her system through inhalation. The duration of reaction is the time the body needs to process the chemicals. In this case, as the amount of chemicals went to his or her system is very small, it will take only few minutes for the body to process the chemicals. By breathing clean and fresh air and letting the body process the chemicals, the person will be back to normal in few minutes. While experiencing reactions due to exposure to chemicals, breathing clean and fresh air is very important.

Putting multiple chemicals into the system will give violent reaction. For example, while shopping in a store, if a person suddenly feels uncomfortable due to exposure to some chemicals, the person should immediately go outside and try to breathe some clean and fresh air. By breathing clean and fresh air for few minutes will make the person feel better. Then the person can go back to the store. The consequences of continuous exposure to chemicals will be worse than those of intermittent exposures to the chemicals at intervals separated by sufficient time to permit a degree of recovery. Many people with MCS spend hours and hours in the store until they feel dizzy and start to loose balance due to exposure to multiple chemicals. In this situation, the person should immediately go outside and try to breathe clean and fresh air. As the person has put multiple chemicals to his or her system, it will take longer time for the body to process the chemicals. This multiple exposure to a chemical or exposure to multiple chemicals does lot of harm to the system. It will gradually reduce personís body tolerance to chemicals and substances present in the environment, and the person will start to react to new things. It will also bring the person one step closure to next higher Stage of MCS.

In the case of a person with MCS, one of the effects of chemical is brain reaction. When a person puts multiple chemicals to the system, due to synergistic effect of some chemicals, the effect of two chemicals will be greater than the sum of their effects when acting alone. This can be expressed in mathematical terms as 1 + 1 = 4. In this case, two chemicals acting alone will give 1 magnitude of reaction to the body. But, when both chemicals are present at the same time, it will give 4 magnitude of reaction to the body.

There is another form of chemical interaction known as potentiation. In the case of potentiation, a substance, which on its own causes no harm, makes the effect of another chemical much worse. This can be expressed in mathematical terms as 0 + 1 = 5. In this case, the first chemical has no effect on the body. The second chemical acting alone will give 1 magnitude of reaction to the body. But, when both chemicals are present at the same time, it will give 5 magnitude of reaction to the body. This also explains why some substance or chemical gives mild reaction at some instance, while the same substance or chemical gives violent reaction at another instance.

There are also some chemicals, when present in the system, can neutralize the effect of another chemical. This is known as antagonistic effect of the chemical. The antagonistic effect is the result of a chemical counteracting the adverse effect of another chemical in the body. This can be expressed in mathematical terms as 1 + 1 = 0. In this case, the two chemicals acting alone will give 1 magnitude of reaction. But, when both chemicals are present at the same time, there will be practically no reaction to the body.

Reversible and Irreversible effects of Chemicals

The effects of exposure to chemicals on a personís body, depending on the target organ, can be either reversible or irreversible. For example, exposure to some chemicals can cause liver damage. The liver has a great capacity for regeneration. Many adverse effects of the chemicals to the liver are reversible and complete recovery can occur. Exposure to some chemicals can cause damage to the central nervous system. The central nervous system, in which regeneration of tissue is severely limited, most adverse effects leading to morphological changes are irreversible and recovery is extremely limited. These irreversible adverse effects of toxic chemicals on specific target organ, such as, central nervous system including the brain will lead to MCS. As the permanent (irreversible) damage to the central nervous system including the brain is at cellular level (i.e., toxic chemicals have damaged certain brain cells), MCS can not be treated by any traditional medical treatments available at present. Gene Therapy will be the viable treatment for MCS. The good news is, Gene Therapy is going to revolutionize the medical field and will be widely available for the treatment of many diseases which could not be treated by traditional treatment. In few years, some form of Gene Therapy may be available for MCS patients.

Gene Therapy is a method of treatment of disease that utilizes genes to provide the patientís cells with the genetic information necessary to produce specific therapeutic proteins. Genes are segments of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) present in each cell in the body, which provide the information cells use to produce protein. The damaged cells in the body can be treated by inserting a normal gene into damaged cells which will either replace the defective gene or enhance the production of therapeutic proteins.

W. French Anderson, one of the architects of the new attempts at Gene Therapy, sees a bright future. By the early years of the 21st century, he predicts, Gene Therapy will have become a highly sophisticated drug delivery system. Doctors will give the patient one, or perhaps several, transplants of his or her own cells that have been genetically engineered to manufacture a drug. In many cases this might replace the conventional practice of injecting drugs at regular intervals. How far in the future is this new application of genetic medicine? Five to ten years for the essential techniques, he estimates, somewhat longer to achieve a high degree of sophistication.

Adverse Effects of Toxic Chemicals on the Nervous System

The most common adverse effects of toxic chemicals on the nervous system are structural changes, functional changes and behavioral changes.

Structural Changes: Toxic chemicals can alter both the structure and the function of cells. Structural alterations include changes in the morphology of the cell and the subcellular structures within it, and destruction of groups of cells. When a toxic chemical enters the human body, it can affect the biochemistry of neurons and glia. The cells may swell, their internal contents may become more acidic, and biochemical processes such as protein synthesis and neurotransmitter secretion may be inhibited.

Functional Changes: Toxic chemicals can induce functional changes that involve modifications of motor and sensory activities, emotional states, and integrative capabilities such as learning and memory. Numerous sensory systems can be adversely affected, including sight, hearing, and touch and pain sensation. These effects may be caused by destruction of the myelin sheath that surround neurons, damage to the neuron itself, or damage to the neurotransmitter system. Sensory changes are often reported as numbness or a tingling sensation.

Behavioral Changes: Behavioral changes may be the first indications of damage to the nervous system. An individual exposed to toxic chemicals may initially experience vague feelings of anxiety or nervousness. These feelings may progress to depression, difficulty in sleeping, memory loss, confusion, loss of appetite, or speech impairment. In severe cases, a person may exhibit bizarre behavior, delirium, hallucinations, or convulsions.

Brain Reactions to Chemicals

Among all the adverse effects of MCS, brain reactions are the most critical. Once a person gets MCS, the personís brain gets extremely sensitized to chemicals and starts to react to even minute quantity of any chemical. With brain reaction, the heart rate and blood pressure will start to rise. Because medicines are made of chemicals and chemical compounds, the brain will react to medicines. Some of the medicines will give severe to life-threatening reactions.

Temporary memory loss is one of the effects of brain reactions to some chemicals. For example, sometimes a person cannot remember where the person has parked the car, where the person is, where the person has to go, etc. This temporary memory loss is normal for a person with MCS. In this situation, the person should not start to panic which will make the situation worse. The person should try to relax and try to breathe clean and fresh air. Within 10 to 15 minutes the person will gradually start to remember everything.

Reactions to Electromagnetic Field and Radiation

Many people with MCS experience severe reactions to Electromagnetic field and Radiation. A person with MCS can take a simple test to find out if he or she will react to Electromagnetic field and Radiation. Just by holding any electric hair dryer when the hair dryer is on, if the person feels a tingling sensation throughout the body, then the person will react to Electromagnetic field and Radiation. This reaction to Electromagnetic field and Radiation is a clear indication of cell damage due to exposure to toxic chemicals. The cells of different organs regulate their electric potential through ion concentration. Some of these ions are Potassium (K+), Sodium (Na+), and Chloride (Cl-). Most likely, the damaged cells are unable to regulate their electric potential properly and possess excess of ions in the form of electric charge. This electric charge needs a conductive media to flow around the body in the form of electricity. The Electromagnetic field provides this conductive media. When the person comes close to any Electromagnetic field, the electric charge will start to flow throughout the body. As soon as the person comes near any Electromagnetic field, automatically minute quantity of electricity will start to flow throughout the body. Once the person moves away from the Electromagnetic field, the flow of electricity will stop. The person will experience similar effect from Radiation.

The high voltage transmission lines will provide the strongest Electromagnetic field. It will be very dangerous for somebody who reacts to Electromagnetic field and Radiation to go near high voltage transmission lines or live in the area where high voltage transmission lines are present. Other common sources of Electromagnetic field are electric motors. Any equipment small or large, driven by an electric motor will create an Electromagnetic field around it. For example, when the electric hair dryer is on and its motor running, it creates an Electromagnetic field around it. By holding the electric hair dryer while the motor is running, the person feels the flowing of electricity in the body. The person should try to avoid using any equipment driven by an electric motor. The most common sources of Radiation are TV, computer and cell phone. To avoid any Radiation from a TV, the person should watch TV from a distance. The person should try to avoid working in any computer. If the person has to work in a computer, then he or she should take frequent breaks and do something else in between. A person with MCS should try to avoid using a cell phone regularly.

In the case of exposure to Electromagnetic field and Radiation, as no chemicals are involved, there will not be any brain reaction. The most common reactions the person will get from exposure to Electromagnetic field and Radiation are numbness to hands and legs, feeling of needles throughout the body, and cardiac reaction. The personís heart rate and blood pressure will go up. Prolonged exposure to Electromagnetic field and Radiation will do lots of harm to the system by damaging normal cells. In my opinion, this illness of reaction to Electromagnetic field and Radiation, can be treated, may be cured, through Gene Therapy.

A significant percentage of our population, due to their genetic makeup, are less tolerant to toxic chemicals. Most of them will develop MCS through exposure to toxic chemicals being used in our society. Unfortunately, in the case of MCS, politics plays a major role. Emphasis should be given to conduct privately funded research for MCS including Gene Therapy.

References:

Balch, James F. and Phyllis A. Blach, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 2nd Edition, Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, New York, 1997.

Haley, Thomas J. and William O. Berndt, Handbook of Toxicology, Hemisphere Publishing Corp., Washington, 1987.

U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Neurotoxicity: Identifying and Controlling Poisons of the Nervous System, OTA-BA-436, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., April 1990.

W. French Anderson, Human Gene Therapy, Nature, 1998.

ã Copyright 2000

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