Japanese researchers believe repeated exposure to artificial food dyes in sweets may have caused multiple chemical sensitivity in a 5 year old girl.
The case is reported by researchers at the Department of Environmental Immuno-Dermatology, Yokohama City University School of Medicine, Yokohama, Japan. It is one of only a handful of reported cases of multiple chemical sensitivity affecting a young child, with most involving adults.
Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), sometimes referred to as environmental illness, renders sufferers acutely sensitive to tiny amounts of volatile organic chemicals (VOC's) commonly found in household and personal care products. Symptoms include fatigue, headaches, dizziness and faintness, irregular or rapid heartbeat, asthma/breathing problems, short-term memory loss, and poor concentration.
MCS is a highly controversial diagnosis. With the current lack of explanation for sufferers symptoms, many people have been quick to dismiss them as existing only in their minds. For those who are affected by this cruel condition, the present lack of knowledge about the condition and people's resulting reactions, just add to the misery. Sufferers need to remove chemicals from their environment and avoid places where they are present leads to serious problems with home and social life, as well as with employment.
Despite the popular opinion amongst doctors and the public at large, that people claiming that chemicals make them sick are a little crazy, there have been about 700 research articles published on the subject and approximately 80% of these have concluded that it is a biological illness rather than a psychiatric problem. There are a number of theories that propose what might cause someone to become ill with multiple chemical sensitivity. The most likely mechanisms are thought to involve sensitization of brain cells in the limbic system (emotional control centre), elevated levels of nitric oxide (a chemical messenger in the brain), immune system malfunction, poor brain blood flow, and impaired detoxification.
The Japanese researchers report a 5 year old girl initially presented with symptoms including headache, abdominal pain, and fainting spells after consuming artificially coloured sweets (candy). The girl was treated with antihistamines and corticosteroids for suspected food allergy, but rather than eradicating her symptoms, the medications actually exacerbated them.
To determine exactly what was causing the girls symptoms, she was asked to exclude all the colourful sweets that triggered her symptoms. A series of skin prick allergy tests were then carried out with various food additives and medications. It was found that Tartrazine (an azo dye), aspirin and acetaminophen were all triggers for the girls symptoms and she was subsequently diagnosed with intolerance to azo dyes and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID's) such as aspirin.
By avoiding the identified food additives and medications, the girls symptoms cleared up. Soon afterwards however she appeared to react to multiple chemical odours such as those of cigarette smoke, disinfectant, detergent, cleaning compounds, perfume, and hair products. These are all widely reported triggers amongst MCS sufferers.
Based on the girls medical history and observed symptoms she was ultimately diagnosed with severe MCS and prescribed multiple vitamin and glutathione supplements. These are common treatments prescribed for MCS patients, designed to boost detoxification and elimination of chemicals from the body. Sauna's are sometimes used for the same purpose chemicals stored in fat tissue are expelled in the sweat. The most effective treatment approach for MCS however seems to be a period of strict avoidance of the chemical triggers. This can be a hard task as natural and fragrance-free alternatives to all the common chemical products that people typically use have to be found. It is often worth it in the long-run however, as patients find that tolerance gradually begins to return.
In conclusion, the Japanese research team states that "The present results suggest that in pediatric MCS, food and drug additives containing azo dyes might play important roles as elicitors."
This research highlights a number of points. Firstly it seems that multiple chemical sensitivity can develop in the very young without decades of exposure to chemicals or a single acute exposure. Perhaps this is because chemicals are so prevalent in our environment today that a 5 year old already has a considerable toxic burden. Indeed, synthetic chemicals have been detected in newborns, presumably passed to them by their mother whilst in the womb. Secondly, the research indicates that parents need to be careful with what their children are eating. This is just another reason why a child's consumption of highly artificial "foods" should be limited. It also highlights the inherent toxicity of prescription medicines and the need for those too to be used with restraint. Finally, this study points to the need for much more research into the mechanisms behind the phenomenon of multiple chemical sensitivity. Indications are that it is on the increase and is not just going to go away.
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