Lourdes Salvador's Column
...Co-founder of MCS America discusses the latest Multiple Chemical Sensitivity issues.
Lourdes Salvador volunteers as a writer and social advocate for the recognition of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). She was a passionate advocate for the homeless and worked with her local governor to provide services to the homeless through a new approach she created to end homelessness. That passion soon turned to advocacy and activism for people with MCS and the medical professionals who serve them. She co-founded MCS Awareness in 2005 and went on to found MCS America in 2006. She serves as a partner for Environmental Education Week, a partner for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE), and a supporter for the American Cancer Society: Campaign for Smokefree Air.
Chemical Allergy Biomarkers
by Lourdes Salvador
“The inhalation of many types of chemicals, including pesticides, perfumes, and other low-molecular weight chemicals, is a leading cause of allergic respiratory diseases,” according to Fukuyahma and colleagues, researchers at the Institute of Environmental Toxicology in Japan.
This data has been confirmed over and over again. Allergies, asthma, and respiratory disease have all been linked to chemicals acting as environmental respiratory irritants.
These researchers also articulated an interest in the allergic nature of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), alleging MCS to be “characterized by various signs, including neurological disorders and allergy.”
A literature review, however, shows allergy is independent of MCS. MCS is neurological, but allergy is not present in every MCS case. MCS may co-occur with allergies. There are many documented cases of MCS existing with no allergic response, which is sometimes referred to as chronic chemical toxicity.
There are several distinct types of reactions. All may occur together and each may occur without the others.
- Chemical Allergy
- Chemical Toxicity
- Food Allergy
- Food Intolerance
Allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to otherwise “benign” substances, such as pollen, dander, and dust. Allergies are typically characterized by the formation of rapid-acting antibodies known as IgE (immunoglobulin E). Symptoms are typically itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, rash, and congestion.
MCS, on the other hand, is comparable to poisoning by low levels of “toxic” substances, such as the solvents, petrochemicals, and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) found in fragrances, air fresheners, cleaning chemicals, and pesticides.
Unlike allergies, MCS is not characterized by the formation of IgE, but rather by cellular inflammation, nutritional deficiencies or malabsorption, and impaired detoxification.
The symptoms of MCS are typically neurological and include headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, disorientation, memory problems, slowed reaction time, peripheral neuropathy, sensory neuropathy, organic brain syndrome, and personality/mood changes. Other symptoms may include respiratory difficulty, rash, burning sensations in the nose and mouth, and gastrointestinal disorders. Serious MCS reactions may result in impaired speech, seizures, stroke, and paralysis.
Similarly, people reacting to certain foods may have either food allergy or food intolerance. A true food allergy is a reaction triggered by the immune system. Food allergy is relatively uncommon.
Food intolerance doesn't involve the immune system. A great example of food intolerance is lactose intolerance, which is caused by lack of an enzyme known as lactase. Lactase is required by the body to digest milk sugars found in dairy products. Lack of lactase renders a person unable to break down milk sugars, producing symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and pain. These symptoms are not caused by an immune response.
Food allergy and food intolerance are treated differently. Food allergy may be controlled through the use of allergy medications. Food intolerance will not respond to the use of allergy medications since there is no immune response. In the case of lactose intolerance, supplementary enzymes would be prescribed to replace those missing and enable the body to break down milk sugars.
MCS is akin to food intolerance because the body is not able to break down environmental toxicants. Neither MCS nor food allergy produce an immune reaction. MCS is defined as an acquired and progressive neurological disease induced by exposure to small amounts of toxic chemical and fragrance products which the body is unable to break down for elimination. The process of breaking down foreign matter for elimination is known as detoxification.
If doctor’s solely looked for allergic responses when patients present with symptoms from certain foods, a vast majority of patients would be sent away with a resounding, “There’s nothing wrong with you”. People with untreated food intolerances are often reduced to a small handful of tolerable foods, which results in a nutritionally insufficient diet.
Properly identifying a food intolerance is necessary to return these people to health, much like properly identifying chemical toxicity as opposed to chemical allergy is necessary to return people with MCS to health. Classifying MCS as anything other than chemical toxicity is misleading and deceptive, robbing patient’s with MCS of a proper diagnosis and efficacious treatment.
Many endocrine changes and mineral deficiencies have been documented in MCS. It appears that when the body is under toxic assault, it gradually breaks down. More and more autoimmune conditions develop. Much higher amounts of nutrients, particularly antioxidants and other nutrients used in the detoxification process are needed than diet alone can provide.
Fukuyahma and his colleagues overlooked much of the literature disproving MCS as an allergy. In their studies, they sensitized mice to several common chemical allergens and then tested them for a resulting allergic response. Of course the mice had an allergic reaction to these chemical substances. But did they develop MCS? We don’t know. Since we don’t know what really causes MCS, we cannot say with any certainty that an allergic sensitization is the same thing as MCS. In fact, the vast majority of literature holds that it’s not.
While Fukuyahma and his colleagues found a way to detect allergies from low levels of chemicals using elevated lymphocytes and surface antigen expression of B cells as biomarkers for what they claim is multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), much is left unproven.
These studies do not address whether people who are experiencing the toxic effects of chemicals, as opposed to allergy, would also experience elevated lymphocytes and B cell antigens. The typical MCS incitants were not studied.
On the one hand, it’s good that we now have a potential way to help detect low level chemical allergy. On the other hand, it’s of grave concern that this would be used as a sole diagnostic tool for MCS, thereby misdiagnosing those who suffer from chemical toxicity without chemical allergy.
What does this prove for MCS? Not much. Additional research is needed to clarify the true cause of MCS and how MCS correlates with allergies and other intolerances.
Fukuyama T, Ueda H, Hayashi K, Tajima Y, Shuto Y, Saito TR, Harada T, Kosaka T. Identifying low-dose chemical-induced respiratory allergic responses in mice. Toxicol Lett. 2008 Jul 30. [Epub ahead of print]
Fukuyama T, Ueda H, Hayashi K, Tajima Y, Shuto Y, Saito TR, Harada T, Kosaka T. Detection of low-level environmental chemical allergy by a long-term sensitization method. Toxicol Lett. 2008 Jul 30;180(1):1-8. Epub 2008 May 16.
For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.
Copyrighted 2008 Lourdes Salvador & MCS America