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Recommended Reading: Allergic to the 20th Century

Allergic to the 20th Century – Peter Radetsky

allergic to the 20th centuryIf you think have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, know someone who does, or just want to learn more about it, Radetsky provides a highly informative (though somewhat dated -1996) read on the subject.

He examines who tends to be effected. In one survey of the general population, 33 % were reported to be sensitive to chemicals. A typical MCS patient is “white, 30-59 yrs old, middle to upper class professional, and female.” 80% are female.

The National Academy of Sciences has suggested that some 15 % of Americans may experience ‘increased allergic sensitivity to chemicals.’

A 1991 survey by the EPA found that approx. 1/3 of inhabitants of sealed buildings reported sensitivity to one or more common chemicals.

Throughout his book he follows several individuals and families coping with MCS, Sick Building Syndrome and Gulf War Syndrome. He tells the stories of the toxic events of overexposure to chemicals which have since left them sick.

Some of the typical common symptoms of those suffering from the above three illnesses are: headaches, fatigue, rashes, itchy eyes and stuffy nose after exposure to pools with chlorine, nausea from car exhaust, joint pain, tiredness, loss of motivation, muscle aches, memory difficulties, diarrhea,  abdominal pain, stiffness, tingling fingers and toes, concentration difficulties,  frequent urination, recurrent infections, numbness, weak arms, weight gain, chest pain, muscle cramping, depression, problem focusing eyes, grogginess, nausea, weight loss, spreading sensitivity to solvents, fragrances, loss of equilibrium and coordination, etc

By way of these sick individuals come a few recommendations on how to create a safe place to live in.

  • If the individual must create a safe space for themselves, create 2 different spaces instead of just one, so as not to be breathing the same air all the time.
  • Avoid skylights – they leak, mold potential.
  • Let air circulate around furniture.

Exceptionally interesting are Radetsky’s interviews with several medical practitioners who work with MCS patients, whose approaches to treatment he describes.

Dr William Rea of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas is perhaps the most well-known doctor treating MCS, at least in certain circles.

In a nutshell, Dr. Rea’s approach is 1) avoid exposure 2) nutritional therapy 3) immunotherapy 4) heat therapy – sauna.

Dr Rea has his clients use a rotation diet to find food instigators, and warns to get rid of synthetic clothing. Dr. Rea also talks about a masking effect in which the body adapts to the problem chemical(s), resulting in nagging headache, fatigue, and fuzziness.

While many in mainstream medicine may try to discount Dr. Rea’s primary method of avoidance therapy, Rea points out avoidance therapy is completely mainstream medicine, including such things as quarantining and washing wounds!

Another element of MCS is the synergistic effects of certain compounds. A widely known example of harmful synergistic effects is cigarette smoke and radon. Both have harmful effects individually, but together their combined effects are worsened. With synergistic effects, 2+2 =5 instead of 4. Radetsky recounts a research experiment with chickens who were given Deet, permethrin, pyridostigmine. Given any one of the chemicals, the animal was ok. Given a mix of any of the 2, Gulf War-like symptoms developed. Gulf War Syndrome and MCS have a highly paralleled list of symptoms and possibly the same root of a problem.

Just as infectious disease includes ailments that have little in common except the fact that they’re caused by microbes, might MCS similarly include maladies that have nothing in common except the fact that they’re caused by chemicals?

The author details some of the theories being explored by researchers as to the causes or mechanisms behind MCS. Here are some of those theories:
  • Toxic chemicals may induce white blood cells to commit suicide.
  • There is an effect of chemicals on thymus, thus passing on defective cells, eventually causing autoimmune disease.
  • Toxic chemicals may damage DNA enzymes or produce oncogenes (the cells that cause cancer).
  • The inhaled chemicals may inflame an important nerve, leading to an allergic type reaction followed by a domino effect whole body reaction.
  • Yet another deals with the sense of smell having a direct effect on the limbic system in the brain. “Whatever the nose smells makes a beeline to the brain via this nonstop superhighway.” Chemicals then sensitize this route. One scientific experiment showed rodents being more sensitive to cocaine after exposure to formaldehyde.
  • Regarding a limbic effect, chemical exposure may activate the fight or flight system which then won’t shut down.
  • Early life stress may also be an indicator.

One researcher thinks MCS may be a precursor to cancer or autoimmune disease, thus the grave importance of treating MCS.

’MCS patients are articulating what’s happening to all of us. …It’s probably related to the cancer problem, which is also largely chemically induced, despite the efforts to make it genetic.’ – Kaye Kilburn

Many people who I speak to about MCS have the same reaction – that it must be the fragile of nature who get MCS and that it’s probably better to expose yourself to toxins regularly in order to build up an immunity. However, exposure to produce immunity does not always work. Radetsky tells the story of Prince Alfred of Monaco trying to create antidote for sea anemone sting. They injected the venom into dogs. The 1st dose didn’t have an affect, but with the 2nd dose the dogs died. Thus, sensitivity is sometimes increased rather than decreased, and this seems to be the mechanism with MCS.

Radetsky does dedicate some time to researchers who discredit the chemical causes of MCS in favor of psychological causes. MCS is generally referred to as “idiopathic environmental intolerance” by those with this viewpoint. However, Radetsky points out that there is no strength to the scientific evidence of a psychological based cause, and the main proponent of this viewpoint has a serious conflict of interest.

Though MCS is not widely recognized by the medical community, HUD (Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) recognizes MCS as a disability. This is at least a start at official recognition, and a small source of help for those with MCS who end up losing much of their financial resources due to the debilitating nature of the illness.

MCS is controversial because if chemicals are making us sick, whoever produces those chemicals is to blame. This is yet another case where the powerful wield the right to do as they like… until enough of us band together out of sincere concern for our collective present and future!

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