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.
Study Says MCS is Related to Chemicals, Not Psychology
by Lourdes Salvador
The majority of illnesses that have become accepted as biomedical diseases are first the source of uncertainty and dispute, often labeled as psychiatric in the absence of scientific data proving causation and effective treatment.
Much later, the truth becomes known and the illnesses are accepted as real. This acceptance usually depends on the development of a new drug for treatment of symptoms. Once a drug is developed, the pharmaceutical companies move in to fund studies to market their drugs. Inadvertently, this legitimizes an illness regardless of whether the cause has been uncovered. Victims of illnesses for which no drug has been developed continue to be deligitimized regardless of their pain and suffering.
Asthma, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and mad hatters (now known as mercury poisoning) are examples of such illnesses which were not always recognized as "real". These illnesses became medicalized (accepted by the medical profession) after drugs had been researched and developed.
A current illness facing a travesty of inappropriate care is multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). For many years, MCS was targeted for deligitimization for several reasons:
The chemical industry has great financial interest in the perceived safety and continued sale of their products which are implicated as toxic.
The pharmaceutical industry has great financial interest in selling psycho-pharmaceutical drugs.
The medical journals are owned by the pharmaceutical industry and control what is published, effectively limiting genuine studies on MCS.
The chemical industry and pharmaceutical industry are hopelessly intertwined, ownership crisscrossing from one to the other.
Government bodies and politicians often receive financial support from industry sources and have vested financial interest in insuring that support is ongoing.
In the past, a small number of poorly designed studies with gross methodological flaws and bias falsely concluded that while persons with MCS react to chemical challenges, these responses occur more often when they can discern differences between active and sham substances.
They suggested that MCS was a psychological condition related to expectations and prior beliefs, a position which both the chemical and pharmaceutical industries worked hard to imply as it would eliminate their chemicals from being a liability and promote the use of profitable psychiatric drugs in the absence of drugs that could negate the effects of environmental pollution. Since the majority of chemical and pharmaceutical companies share the same ownership, this position was promoted vigorously and skillfully through industry controlled journals.
Fortunately, these bogus studies were re-examined by Goudsmit and Howes using additional scientifically accepted criteria. The studies promoting a psychological basis for MCS were found to be grossly misleading due to numerous methodological flaws and shortcomings. They determined that MCS is more closely linked to exposure to chemicals than to disorders such as anxiety, somatoform disorders, and depression.
Goudsmit and Howes´ work was published in the Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, the Official journal of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, which appears to be free from the industry funding and bias that impacts the publishing decisions of other journals.
The review revealed that the authors of the spurious MCS studies do not appear to have given any due consideration to viable and obvious explanations when interpreting their findings. They seem to have had significant bias for a specific objective, likely to protect industry by convincing others that MCS is not real. As such, it seems that the authors twisted the findings around until they could convincingly meet their own biased objectives.
Scientists now conclude that the psychological studies over-stated the role of possible psychological factors in the cause of MCS. MCS can not be proven to be a psychological illness. Enough data shows abnormal biological findings in MCS, indicating a true physical disorder. This is a fact that sufferers and activists alike have been promoting since the beginning.
Biased parties have twisted their cause and effect reports to promote fictitious claims that sufferers are in "denial" and do not recognize their own psychopathology. They refused to consider or explore that the reason for vehement objections by patients was that MCS is not psychological at all… that real suffering with a biological cause is occurring and continues to occur in a growing number of people, including children.
The study concludes several key facts which disprove a conditioned response in MCS:
If classical conditioning was a common phenomenon, the incidence of MCS would be much higher.
If trauma was a factor, all patients would be able to identify with a traumatic event that was present with a neutral object. Some people with MCS cannot identify any event which led to their illness.
Many chemicals to which people become sensitive have no odor, therefore cannot be identified or produce a conditioned response because the actual symptoms are the only sign of exposure.
Extinction occurs in Pavlovian conditioning with the repeated exposure to the conditioned stimulus in the absence of the unconditioned stimulus. This does not occur in MCS. In MCS, the ´conditioned responses´ are by definition chronic and don´t simply extinguish.
Therefore, conditioning does not seem to be a valid model.
There is no reliable proof that MCS is anything other than the genuine toxic effects of chemicals. The large quantity of biochemical abnormalities documented is consistent with a physical origin. People with MCS tested in daily life do not appear to have somatic or psychological symptoms when they are not provoked with a chemical incitant. Test groups evaluated similarly with control groups when the MCS subjects were not experiencing a reaction.
Goudsmit and Howes conclude that MCS is more closely linked to exposure to toxic chemicals than to disorders such as anxiety, somatoform disorders and depression. As the activists and patients have been saying all along, it´s the chemicals.
Goudsmit, E, Howes. S. Is multiple chemical sensitivity a learned response? A critical evaluation of provocation studies. Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine. 30 September 2008.
For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.
Copyrighted 2008 Lourdes Salvador & MCS America