Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Is it real? Part 2 of 7
Is MCS real? It depends on whom you ask. If you ask someone experiencing symptoms, you’ll get a resounding "yes!" If you ask some of the leading environmental health experts in the world, you will get a resounding "yes." In fact, in September 2015, the 5th Paris Appeal Congress formally requested the World Health Organization to recognize MCS and electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) as “an escalating worldwide health problem, affecting industrialized as well as developing countries." 1
However, according to the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs (AMACSAF), MCS is not “real.” They do not recognize MCS as a clinical condition. They state there is a “lack of diagnostic criteria and controlled studies. 2 Basically, their position is if you come into their office and tell them you are having a problem with itching or narcolepsy or memory or fatigue, it’s just you and they really don’t have a way to prove that those things are going on. You will be hard-pressed to find any of the conventional (allopathic) medical organizations supporting MCS as a disorder. In fact, some researchers and medical professionals believe that MCS is “a contemporary version of neurasthenia, a concept first introduced by a physician named George Miller Beard in 1869.” 3
For background on this so you’ll know what they’re thinking, neurasthenia, as described in the historical literature and by it’s categorization in American medicine, is basically a psychiatric problem— shot nerves from too much urbanization. The term isn’t used in most countries today, except the United Kingdom, but the belief is the same. Symptoms include “the sensation of pain or of numbness in various parts of the body, chronic fatigue, weakness, anxiety, and fainting,… rapid intense heartbeat that may be irregular (palpitations, tachycardia); cold, clammy hands and feet; abnormally rapid breathing (hyperventilating); dizziness or faintness; periodic sighing; and/or sweating for no apparent reason. 4
Actually, this does sound a lot like MCS and a host of other diseases, some of which are considered part of the MCS “family.” Rather than attribute those symptoms to chemical exposure, physicians are more likely to make one of the other diagnoses: clinical depression, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, postpartum depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and/or mononucleosis. 5
The comparison between MCS and neurasthenia is interesting. There’s no mention in the AMACSAF’s position paper of the long list of industries that would be “seriously affected” if they designated MCS as an actual disorder. 6 Medical professionals of this organization seem to be more concerned with industries that make perfume, toiletries, chlorine-containing products, gasoline, alcoholic beverages, carpeting, silicone breast implants, dry cleaning, and tobacco than a person with a health complaint. While the AMACSAF’s position paper is relatively old, I haven’t found much evidence that they’ve changed in the last few years despite more and more studies pointing to the environment as a contributing factor or the cause of most diseases today.
Environmental causes of illness are on the scale of an epidemic. Dr. Judy Ford (geneticist) is not alone in her belief that “Chemical pollution pervades all aspects of life from conception onward.” 7 Each of us is exposed to a long list of chemicals from birth through death. This constant and consistent exposure has consequences for our health and well-being. A study in 2008 found that 90-95% of all cancer cases “have their roots in the environment and lifestyle.” 8 Although the primary cause of death from cancer is cigarette smoking, “environmental pollutants” are also cited as a factor. 9, 10
In addition, children are experiencing increasing health problems, not the least of which are learning and behavior problems. These can be correlated to chemical intolerance (pollution, toxicants, etc.). 11 A 2002 study found that “Dyslexia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diminished intelligence, autism, and mental retardation are among the neurobehavioral disorders that affect an estimated 3–8% (120,000–320,000) of the approximately 4 million infants born in the United States each year.” 12 Add to that another 3% of neurobehavioral disorders directly connected to environmental pollution and an additional 25% caused by interactions between the environment and a child’s genetic susceptibility. 13
In none of the serious recent research on MCS is there mention of an unspecified nervous condition (neurasthenia). As cynical as it sounds, the most likely reason for this “diagnosis” would be money. These physicians seem to have an overwhelming concern about insurance claims and industry profits. As a mother and grandmother, my overwhelming concern is the health of my children and my grandchildren. This difference puts me at odds with conventional medicine and physicians, a position about which I want to be transparent as this website will first and foremost suggest alternative healing remedies.
As anyone who is experiencing MCS symptoms understands, a precise, clear diagnosis is going to be difficult. If it were easy, we wouldn’t go to a professional for help. We already know explicitly or intuitively that there may not be a direct line from an initial chemical exposure to the beginning of symptoms or from the beginning of symptoms to a subsequent health impairment. To make matters more chaotic, chemical exposure is multi-dimensional. Daily, people interact with a “multitude of chemical compounds and the carriers for those compounds have been found to be equally as hazardous to health.” 14 Finally, we already know from our personal experiences that people react differently to the same type, level, and length of exposure. This means the same experience for two people can result in anything from a mild irritation to a slowly progressing neuro-degenerative disease to a diagnosis of cancer months or years later to immediate death.
I think it’s time we stopped even considering the idea that MCS isn’t “real” and move on to how to help the increasing numbers of people who experience it so they have full, productive, happy, healthy lives. It is no longer a question of does someone have chemicals in his/her body. The answer to that is yes— about 91 on average. 15 If you are curious as to what chemicals you may be around, the Center for Disease Control publishes research on just that and the list is long. 16 Their 2009 report presents information on 212 environmental chemicals, including 75 measured for the first time. The updated tables for 2015 measured 265 chemicals, 65 of which were new and 139 updated since August 2014. 17 We should be asking different questions than whether chemical sensitivity is a medical disorder and if so, who is affected by it and why. Research shows that the answers are evident: yes, it is; everyone on earth; because there is pollution. The first question we should be asking is who is chemically sensitive to the point that his/her life is negatively impacted? The second is how do we bring them back into full health?