It's a serious problem more often than you think
Adrienne Buffaloe, MD
source of the problem
There are over 70,000 chemicals commercially produced in the United States today. many of which were developed after World War II. The long-term, low dose effects of many of these chemicals have never been investigated. In fact, the term low dose is misleading, implying low concentrations are harmless. But many chemicals are harmful in very low doses, like the herbicide 2,4, 5-T which is harmful in parts-per-trillion. Unless generated by the body (formaldehyde, pentane), the bodys level for chemicals should be non-detectable, and not low level.
With the energy conservation efforts of the 1980s came the construction of closed buildings. The inability to circulate fresh air coupled with the rise in toxic construction materials and an increase in the use of office machines has created an indoor air pollution problem that exceeds outdoor air pollution. In fact, only approximately 40% of indoor chemicals come from outdoors. Sixty percent of indoor chemicals are generated by products or machines used indoors.
The workplace is a site for chemical toxicity. Closed buildings present their own problems, and each profession additionally contributes specific chemical exposures. With the down-sizing of many businesses and the movement of workers from the office to their respective homes, the home must also be evaluated as a source of occupational chemical exposure. And because the work of childhood is to become educated, schools with their multiple chemicals (asbestos, chalk, paints, solvents, commercial cleaning products, etc.) are a source for substantial chemical toxicity, not only for children but also for teachers, secretaries, janitors, and other school employees.
Who's at risk?
What are the signs
of chemical sensitivity?
Central nervous system dysfunction is common, resulting in headache, chronic fatigue, poor short term memory, hyperactivity, and increased appetite leading to food cravings and overeating. Respiratory complaints include adult onset asthma, shortness of breath, and fibrotic lung disease. Heart palpitations and dysrhythmias herald severe cardiac dysfunction. Abdominal bloating, constipation, and multiple food intolerances signal gastrointestinal involvement. Often Raynauds-type vascular constriction resulting in cold hands and feet, easy bruising, or phlebitis signal chemically- induced peripheral vascular disease. Arthritis and myalgias indicate musculoskeletal involvement. Recurrent, sterile urinary tract inflammation, auto-immune endocrine involvement, and peripheral nerve weakness, paresthesias, and sensory deficits are also found. In fact, the hallmark of chemical sensitivity is that patients present with multisystem disease. This is because, once the chemicals enter the body, they enter the bloodstream and circulate to all parts of the body, even the brain.
Two important phenomena to understand are "spreading" and "switching." Spreading occurs when additional organ systems are involved, or when a patient additionally becomes sensitive to inhalants, foods, dust, animal danders, or other environmental exposures. Switching occurs when the same exposure produces entirely different organ involvement (i.e. photocopier fumes initially caused headache, and subsequently caused no headache but wheezing).
The main mechanism for chemical sensitivity is the failure of the bodys enzyme detoxification pathways to adequately clear chemical compounds. Both immune and non-immune processes have been involved. Chemical sensitivity can develop after a massive chemical exposure (i.e. Bhopal), after specific non-chemical events (massive trauma, childbirth, surgery), after severe infections (viral, bacterial, parasitic) or with no identifiable cause (60% in one large study). Approximately 28% of patients diagnosed with chemical sensitivity have employment-related exposures.
Because most of the toxic chemicals involved are lipophyllic (fat soluble), they become stored in the bodys fat, resistant to metabolism and excretion. In fact, the chemical levels measured from fat biopsies are sometimes 300 times greater than the circulating serum levels.
How can I tell if
I am sensitive to chemicals?
Evaluation of end-organ disease is accomplished through pulmonary function tests, chest x-rays, liver function tests, thyroid function tests with antibodies, adrenal evaluation with antibodies, urinalysis, blood chemistry, endoscopy, cystoscopy, etc. depending on the symptoms involved.
Is there any treatment
for chemical sensitivity?
To maximize a patients liver detoxification pathways, selected nutrients which are co-factors of liver Phase II detoxification pathways are administered. To decrease the fat stores of chemicals, a heat detoxification program has been developed consisting of selected nutrients, exercise, heat therapy, and massage. The protocol of nutrients, exercise, and heat therapy can often reduce the serum levels of the chemicals to "non-detectable."
Because of the spreading phenomenon, sensitivity to molds, grasses, trees, weeds, foods, dust, and other environmental factors must also be determined. Avoidance and/or desensitization for these factors is the treatment of choice.
So what's the prognosis,
American Academy of Environmental Medicine, 4510 West 89th Street-Suite 110, Prairie Village, Kansas 66207.
Braunwald E, et al. Harrisons Principles of Internal Medicine 11th Edition, New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1987, pp 1313-14.
Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Washington, DC: United States Printing Office.
Randolph, TG. Human Ecology and Susceptibility to the Chemical Environment Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 1962.
Rea, W. Chemical Sensitivity Vol. I-IV Boca Raton, FL: Lewis Publishers, 1992-1996.
Reeves, AL (ed). Toxicology: Principles and Practice, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1981.
Copyright 1995, 1996 by Adrienne Buffaloe, MD.
Dr. Buffaloe is the medical director of New York Citys first chemical-free Environmental Medicine Center, Healthcare For The 21st Century, LLC., 964 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10155 212.355.2315 fax: 212.355.4496. She is a member of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, and a graduate of Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons where she was the Henry J Kaiser Scholar, and the Aura E. Sevringhaus Scholar. This article was originally published online at www.accessnewage.com/articles/health/chemical.htm.
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