Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is somewhat of a recent medical phenomena, which is poorly understood, controversial and difficult to provide curative treatment.  One of the best definitions of MCS was based on the consensus opinion of a multidisciplinary group of physicians and scientists involved in research and/or treatment of MCS (published in the Archives of Environmental Health in 1999). This committee defined MCS as (1) a chronic condition (2) with symptoms that recur reproducibly (3) in response to low levels of exposure (4) to multiple unrelated chemicals (5) causing symptoms in multiple organ systems which (6) improve or resolve when incitants (chemical irritants) are removed.

More simply stated, MCS is a condition noteworthy in that those who have it have a very high degree of sensitivity to a diverse array of low level chemical substances, which can cause a multitude of different symptoms.  Estimates of the prevalence of MCS in US population are based on random studies of medical clinic patients, general populations and telephone surveys.  One of the earliest studies in 1987 suggested 2-10% of the population had chemical sensitivity, whereas, a study in 1999 estimated 15.9% of respondents had hypersensitivity to common chemicals.  Studies from 1993 through 1996 estimate between 15%-33%.  This data suggests an increase in MCS within the population.  Clinically, physicians who specialize in Environmental Medicine would agree that the incidence of MCS is rising.

The cause of MCS and its rising incidence correlates with the increasing use of an overwhelming diversity of chemicals to which we are all exposed to in our daily lives.  Chemical exposures are now part of daily life, we are born with toxic chemicals already circulating in our tissues and the longer we live the more we accumulate.  These chemicals are in our air, water, food, clothing, furniture and beds. Pesticides used in Texas find their way to remote areas such as the Arctic through a process known as "leapfrogging".  We spend 95% of our time indoors or in cars where chemical toxins are more concentrated.  This is only a brief overview of where these chemical exposures occur.

Total avoidance of these chemical toxins is close to impossible because of the ubiquitous presence of these chemicals throughout our environment. The awareness of the danger from toxic chemicals is generally at much higher level than it was 30 years ago.  This has resulted in increased availability of less toxic building materials, effective air and water filtration systems, healthier cosmetics and personal-care products and chemically less contaminated foods. Each of us has the ability to reduce our level of exposure by making informed and healthy choices on where we live and what we drink and eat.

If you struggle with MCS, you will be encouraged by reading Poisoned by Pollution by Anne Lipscomb.  Anne's story is an incredible journey toward recovering from this devastating condition.  The book is very well written and offers practical suggestions for health improvement, avoidance of chemicals and transcending the negative effects of this MCS.

Proper stewardship of the Garden of Eden that God has given us also requires reduction in the sources of toxic chemicals as much as possible.  Perhaps this can best be achieved by grassroots dissemination of information about "the chemical problem" to our neighbors, school teachers, fellow church members and our overworked politicians.  Awareness of "the chemical problem" is the first step in bringing about the changes that the people of our nation will bring about when properly informed.

David Buscher, M.D., FAAEM
Former President American Academy of Environmental Medicine
June 2004