Multiple Chemical Sensitivities: Common In ME/CFS

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome is one of the conditions that is commonly seen in ME/CFS patients.  Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome, like ME/CFS, can be either a mild problem or it can be completely debilitating.  I have MCS, but not to an extreme that I can’t function.  For me, certain smells like farm smells and chemical and detergent smells will cause me to have an immediate headache, but I can still function.  One exception is if I am already having a ME/CFS flare and I get around chemicals or smells that bother me then I will get really sick.  Last week I was brushing contact cement on the back of formica and then on the walls because we are remodeling our kitchen and I was having a bad flare.  I would sleep in between waiting for each layer to dry.  My headache became extremely bad and I felt the worst I have felt in a long time.

It is common for MCS patients to react to exposures to pesticides, paint, perfume, fragrances, food preservatives, aerosols, new carpet, petroleum products, formaldehyde, outdoor pollutants, newspaper ink, cleaning compounds, printing and office products, and other synthetically derived chemicals.  

It is also common for MCS to be mistaken or misdiagnosed as allergies.  I was misdiagnosed and went through several allergy tests before I discovered, and my doctor discovered, that I indeed did suffer from MCS.  Some of the symptoms can be the same as allergies.  I will get the instant headache, my eyes may water, and my nose will even feel congested at times I’m exposed to certain smells/chemicals.

What is the possible cause of MCS?  According to MCS America:

One of the first studies on MCS focused on possible long term potentiation in the hippocampus and neural sensitization as a central mechanism (Pall, 2003). Later studies examined the role of the inflammatory process and found that brain inflammation was correlated with symptoms of MCS (Pall, 2003). In 1999, Meggs proposed that MCS is caused by low molecular weight chemicals that bind to chemoreceptors on sensory nerve C-fibers leading to the release of inflammatory mediators (Meggs, 1999). Many observable and empirical, scientific facts can help identify MCS including SPECT scans and chemical encephalopathy, vitamin deficiencies, mineral deficiencies, excess amino acid deficiency, and disturbed lipid and carbohydrate metabolism (Rea et al, 2006; Ziem, 2001; Callendar et al, 1995; Heuser et al, 1994).

McKeown-Eyssen et al (2004) studied 203 MCS sufferers and 162 controls and found that blood tests revealed that genetic differences relating to the body’s detoxification processes were present more often in those with MCS than those without. Data showed that five genetic polymorphisms have a statistically significant role in determining MCS prevalence ( McKeown-Eyssen et al 2004). Each of these genes encode proteins that metabolize chemicals previously implicated in MCS, notably the organophosphorus pesticides (PON1 and PON2 genes) and the organic solvents (CYP2D, NAT1 and NAT2 genes) ( McKeown-Eyssen et al 2004). People with a ”high” expression of two specific genes (CYP2D6 and NAT2) were 18 times more likely to have MCS than those without ( McKeown-Eyssen et al 2004). It was concluded that “a genetic predisposition for MCS may involve altered biotransformation of environmental chemicals” ( McKeown-Eyssen et al 2004). Haley found similar, confirmatory results with the PON1 gene in studies of the Gulf War syndrome veterans.

A new study by Schnakenberg et al (2007) confirmed the genetic variation previously found by McKeown-Eyssen and Haley.

There are a few options to treating MCS you can read more about in detail at the MCS America website:

  • Chemical avoidance
  • Chemical free housing
  • Nutrient therapy
  • Sauna therapy & detoxification
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