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We come into contact with more than 500 chemicals and toxic substances every day


We come into contact with more than 500 chemicals and toxic substances every day
19 Jun 2004   
Source: Medical News Today

We are the first generation of people ever exposed to such an unprecedented number of chemicals on a daily basis - there are now over 70,000 chemicals commercially produced in the U.S., and the number is increasing. Not only do we have “acceptable limits” of contaminants in our food, air and water, we are constantly "upping the ante." We come into contact with more than 500 chemicals and toxic substances every day, and the Sierra Club tells us that there are already approximately 200 chemicals in the average person’s body fat. It is not a question of if we are carrying a burden of toxic compounds, but how much.

No young person alive today has been born without some in utero exposure to synthetic chemicals that can disrupt development. Dr. Marion Moses in her book, “Designer Poisons,” says there is evidence to strongly suggest that chemicals can affect the health and sexual functioning of offspring if either parent has been exposed to toxic chemicals.

The toxins reaching the womb depends not only on what the mother takes in during the pregnancy, but on the contaminants accumulated in her body up to that point in her lifetime. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of chemicals because their neurological systems are still developing and are more susceptible to permanent damage - one study suggests that lawn sprays can cause a four-fold increase in cancer in children. Also chemicals in school buildings can affect a child’s attention span and mental abilities.

We are creating new diseases symptoms that cannot be diagnosed. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that 15% of the population has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), however, physicians who practice environmental medicine estimate that chemical sensitivity affects up to 50% of today’s population. The general public, the media and the government are now recognizing MCS.

Chemical Sensitivity/Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, sometimes called Environmental Illness (EI), is a chronic condition marked by greatly increased sensitivity when exposed to chemical substances, and thought to be caused by short-term or chronic exposure to one or more chemicals. MCS is often referred to as "chemical allergy" but the mechanism is not the same as in traditional allergies to dust, animals and pollen.

The unfortunate paradox of environmental illness (or MCS) is that the same biological and toxicological factors reside in lesser or greater degree in all of us. The difference lies in constitutional genetic differences that make the environmentally ill manifest chemical sensitivities first and then succumb to malignancies, neurological, vascular, and other diseases, while others will succumb to these same diseases, but not manifest chemical sensitivities (National Library of Medicine’s Toxicology Information, 1992).

Those with chemical sensitivities are like the "canaries in the mine," they warn that certain substances are toxic for everyone. No one is immune, and even a normal person can become chemically sensitive after a single exposure to a particular chemical substance, especially if that person’s body detoxification pathways are overloaded or damaged from previous exposures.

Here are a few of the toxins that contribute to chemical "overload": pesticides, secondhand smoke, alcohol, fresh paint, scented products and perfumes, food preservatives and flavor enhancers, aerosols, tap water, cosmetics, new carpets, petroleum products, formaldehyde, outdoor pollutants, cleaning compounds, printing and office products.

The symptoms that may be manifested from these toxins can be any physical and/or mental complaint; headaches, flu-like symptoms, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, "brain fog," depression, anxiety, and even vision and hearing problems. There are also other factors that seem to predispose individuals to increased sensitivity to chemicals such as low thyroid, nutritional deficiencies, and other stressors.

The classic patient who has developed chemical sensitivities has usually been to a dozen or more specialists, has no definite diagnosis, and is often given a tranquilizer and referred to a psychiatrist. Most are told the symptoms are all in their heads, which can be partially true, as the chemicals do affect their brains. If one is totally ignorant of the biochemistry of detoxification, the victim seems to be a malingerer, faking it, or in need of psychiatric help, says Sherry Rogers, M.D. (Dr. Rogers has had MCS and now teaches advanced courses in Environmental Medicine. She is also author of several books including “Tired or Toxic.”)

Traditional allergists typically do not understand MCS, and most MCS people poorly tolerate the preservatives used in the allergy shots.

Every time the MCS victim turns around it seems that he/she has developed another ailment. These sufferers may be afraid to talk about these added complaints with their doctor because the previous ailments are still a mystery. There are less than 1,000 out of 100,000 physicians in the U.S. who can diagnose and properly treat MCS. However, it is important for patients to rule out other more traditional causes for their symptoms before assuming that their problems are from MCS.

Drugs should be used only after all other possibilities have been ruled out, for any prescribed medication can further overload an already ailing system - - another chemical that can waste precious detoxification energy and nutrients, says Dr. Rogers. Intolerance of medications is described consistently in those who are chemically sensitive, and although some are able to benefit from some medications, it should be undertaken with caution and carefully monitored.

Because the total body burden of any environmental stressors is never the same at any two moments, symptoms not only may fluctuate, but may be inconsistent with exposure, therefore the standard “double-blind” studies and repeated exposure trials are almost impossible to do. These responses also cannot be tested in animals, for example, a rat has 6 times the level of some detoxification enzymes, so the rat would not be harmed as easily as a man. Symptoms resulting from exposure can be delayed for days and weeks, which adds to the frustration when trying to find cause and effect.

Many chemicals and their residues build up in the body’s tissues, others do immediate damage and disappear, leaving no trace whatsoever (“Living Healthy in a Toxic World,” Steinman & Wisner, 1996 book). Although we cannot totally avoid chemical exposure, our best protection is to keep our body’s toxic load to a minimum. June Russell, who had MCS for 25 years, is a retired health educator, researcher and writer. Vital Signs is a community health promotion column sponsored by UVA Health System.


“Tired or Toxic,” Sherry Rogers, M.D., 1990 book. Dr. Rogers has had MCS, is an expert on Environmental Illnesses and treats patients who have MCS. She also lectures and teaches advanced courses in Environmental Illness.

“Multiple Chemical Sensitivity - A Survival Guide,” Pamela Reed Gibson, Ph.D., 2000, Associate Professor of Psychology at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Her book is based on the latest MCS research.

“Is This Your Child’s World? How You Can Fix the Schools and Homes That Are Making Your Children Sick,” 1996 book, Doris J. Rapp, M.D., FAEM, FAAP, FAAA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Board Certified in Environmental Medicine, Pediatrics, and Pediatric Allergy.

“Our Stolen Future,” by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers, a 1997 book, according to the Washington Post World, this book picked up where "Silent Spring" left off.

“Living Healthy in a Toxic World: Simple Steps to Protect You and Your Family from Everyday Chemicals, Poisons and Pollution,” David Steinman & R. Michael Wisner, a 1996 book. (Dr. Steinman was a former representative of the public interest at the National Academy of Sciences, and author of a 1992 book, “Diet for a Poisoned Planet”)

“Designer Poisons: How to Protect Your Health and Home from Toxic Pesticides,” Marion Moses, M.D., an authority on pesticides, 1995 book.

Others: Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, Rachel Carson Council, Inc., HormoneWise Digest, Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, “Our Toxic Times” newsletter, a monthly publication of the Chemical Injury Information Network (, Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP),

Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), Beyond Pesticides (,

EXTOXNET (Extension Toxicology Network). Sheila Bastien, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist who has served on the California Senate Subcommittee Advisory Panel on Environmental Illness/Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, author of an article on “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity - How to Reduce Your Toxic Load,” on, and dozens of other articles from health magazines and web sites.

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