Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness): Overview

Mercury poisoning differs from the other forms of metal poisoning in that it causes neurological symptoms rather than digestive disorders.   (Article continues below...)

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Mercury is usually targeted because it is the most common toxicity that most people have - for example, amalgams in teeth contain over 50% mercury. The remainder is made up of silver and sometimes tin, aluminum and other metals. The mercury escapes the amalgam as a vapor and is breathed into the body of the person carrying the amalgam.

Causes and Development

In cases of Acute Mercury Poisoning, the source of mercury poisoning is primarily contamination of food by polluted water containing mercuric compounds from industrial waste or organic mercury contained in some fungicides. Food or feed grains treated with mercury-containing fungicides are a potential source for transmission of the metal through both animal and cereal foods.

Signs and Symptoms

The onset time for Acute Mercury Poisoning is one week or more, at which time the symptoms of numbness, weakness of the legs, spastic paralysis and impaired vision are noted. Blindness and coma are extreme symptoms of the poisoning.

Diagnosis and Tests

In cases of Chronic Mercury Poisoning, the symptoms of low-level, chronic mercury exposure and toxicity can be very general and difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone. In addition, individuals show varying levels of sensitivity to the presence of mercury: amalgam removal may be very important in the recovery process of one person, while for another it may be best to leave the amalgams in place.
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Signs, symptoms & indicators of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness):
Symptoms - AgingPoor balance may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Poor balance

Symptoms - Bowel Movements

Regular painful urge to defecate may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Frequent/occasional/regular painful urge to defecate

Symptoms - Cardiovascular

Heart racing/palpitations may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Heart racing/palpitations

Symptoms - Food - General

Weak appetite may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Weak appetite

Symptoms - General

Constant fatigue may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Constant fatigue
Poor bodily coordination may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Poor bodily coordination
Showers cause fatigue may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Showers cause fatigue
Fatigue induced by light exertion may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Fatigue induced by light exertion

Symptoms - Glandular

(Frequent) cervical node swelling may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  (Frequent) cervical node swelling
Swollen lymph nodes in the neck have been associated with known mercury toxicity. Other sites reported include in front of the ear, under the jaw, and on the back of the neck.

Preauricular node problems may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Preauricular node problems
Swollen lymph nodes in front of the ear, under the jaw, and back of the neck are a possible symptom of mercury toxicity.

Jaw lymph node problems may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Jaw lymph node problems
Back-of-neck lymph node problems may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Back-of-neck lymph node problems

Symptoms - Head - Eyes/Ocular

Vision disturbances may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Vision disturbances
Intermittent blurred distance vision is a sign of mercury toxicity.

Bulging eyes may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Bulging eyes
Marked proptosis (bug eyes), or eye changes typical of hyperthyroidism have been associated with mercury toxicity.

Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral

Dark spots on gums is often a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Dark spots on gums
A swollen tongue is often a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  A swollen tongue
Metallic taste in mouth is often a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Metallic taste in mouth
Coated tongue may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Coated tongue
Cold sores may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Cold sores
Abnormal tastes in mouth may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Abnormal tastes in mouth
Mouth soreness may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Mouth soreness
Gums that bleed easily may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Gums that bleed very/gums that bleed easily

Symptoms - Head - Nose

Nasal congestion may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Nasal congestion
Mild nasal congestion / stuffy nose can be a sign of mercury toxicity.

Symptoms - Metabolic

Low body temperature may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Low body temperature

Symptoms - Mind - Emotional

Impatient/hostile disposition may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Impatient/hostile disposition
Moodiness may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Moodiness
Irritability may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Irritability

Symptoms - Mind - General

Occasional confusion/disorientation may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Frequent/occasional confusion/disorientation
Being easily excitable may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Being easily excitable
Nervous excitability can be a symptom of mercury toxicity.

Being an unsocial person may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Being an unsocial person
Having trouble concentrating may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Having trouble concentrating

Symptoms - Muscular

Tender muscles may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Tender muscles

Symptoms - Nails

Moving white lines across nails is often a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Moving white lines across nails
All heavy metals cause Mees' lines on the nails. These usually begin a few months after significant exposure starts and may be useful in identifying the source of exposure - dental amalgams or some unrecognized source - if you remember when they started.

Symptoms - Reproductive - Female Cycle

Unexplained missed periods may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Unexplained missed periods

Symptoms - Skeletal

Joint pain/swelling/stiffness may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Joint pain/swelling/stiffness

Symptoms - Skin - General

Diminished perspiration may be a sign or symptom of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Diminished perspiration

Conditions that suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness):
AgingAlzheimers Disease may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Alzheimer's Disease
Because Alzheimer's patients often exhibit increased concentration of heavy metals such as mercury in their blood and brain, toxic exposure is believed to play an important role. The areas of the brain that mercury favors are those involved with memory (amygdala and hippocampus). Is is not just aluminum that is implicated in Alzheimer's.

Allergy

Allergy to Foods (Hidden) may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Allergy to Foods (Hidden)

Autoimmune

Multiple Sclerosis may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Multiple Sclerosis
A 1987 study showed that the levels of mercury in the spinal fluid of MS patients was 8 times higher than normal. [Silberod, R: A comparison of mental health of multiple sclerosis patients with silver/mercury dental fillings; Psychological Reports 70: pp.1139-51, 1992]. Mercury has long been linked to autoimmune diseases such as MS because of its affinity to attach to collagen tissue, which is the most common protein in the body. Polluted by mercury infiltration, the collagen is seen by the immune system as 'not self.'

Circulation

Cardiomyopathy strongly suggests Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Cardiomyopathy
Mercury levels in the heart tissue of individuals who died from Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy (IDCM) were found to be on average 22,000 times higher than in individuals who died of other forms of heart disease. [J Amer Coll Cardiology v33(6) pp.1578-1583,1999]

Angina may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Angina
Mercury poisoning may be causing chest pain or angina, especially in anyone under age 45.

Digestion

Sensitive Teeth may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Sensitive Teeth
Diverticular Disease may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Diverticular Disease
Diarrhea may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Diarrhea
Constipation may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Constipation
Bad Breath (Halitosis) may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Immunity

Chronic Fatigue / Fibromyalgia Syndrome may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Chronic Fatigue / Fibromyalgia Syndrome
Weakened Immune System may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Weakened Immune System
In vitro studies suggest that even low, environmentally relevant exposure levels of mercury, which are not toxic, still contribute to immune dysfunction by interfering with proper lymphocyte functioning. [Scand J Immunol 50(3): pp.233-241]

Infections

Yeast / Candida Infection often suggests Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Yeast / Candida Infection
Pharyngitis ("Strep Throat") may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Pharyngitis ("Strep Throat")
Canker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers) may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Canker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers)

Lab Values

High Total Cholesterol may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  High Total Cholesterol
Elevated total cholesterol greater than 270mg may be associated with mercury toxicity.

Mental

Poor Memory may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Poor Memory
Short term memory loss is initially the most common complaint associated with mercury toxicity.

Depression may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Depression
Anxiety may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Anxiety
Panic Attacks may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Panic Attacks

Metabolic

Hypoglycemia may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Hypoglycemia
Heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead and thallium poison the glucose metabolizing catalysts, thus reducing the flow of energy throughout the body. It is interesting to note that the symptoms of heavy metal poisoning are similar to symptoms associated with hypoglycemia i.e. hyperactivity, mood swings, manic depressive behavior, poor concentration and impulsive and unpredictable behavior.

Headaches may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Headaches
Tinnitus may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Tinnitus
Insomnia may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Insomnia

Musculo-Skeletal

Muscle Cramps / Twitching may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Muscle Cramps / Twitching
Unusual tics or twitching of facial muscles have been associated with mercury toxicity, as well as with muscle cramps in cases of high occupational exposure to mercury.

Nervous System

Neuritis/Neuropathy often suggests Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Neuritis/Neuropathy
Tremors may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Tremors

Organ Health

Vertigo may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Vertigo
Kidney Disease may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Kidney Disease
Kidney disease, including kidney failure, is a possible symptom of mercury toxicity.

Chronic Renal Insufficiency may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Chronic Renal Insufficiency

Skin-Hair-Nails

Night Sweats may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Night Sweats
This symptom may be one of many associated with mercury toxicity.

Dry skin may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Dry skin
Exceptionally dry skin has been associated with mercury toxicity.

Cold Hands and Feet may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Cold Hands and Feet
Male Hair Loss may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Male Hair Loss
Mercury toxicity can cause hair loss.

Female Hair Loss may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Female Hair Loss
Mercury toxicity can cause hair loss.

Symptoms - Environment

Moderate mercury toxicity strongly suggests Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Severe/mild/moderate mercury toxicity (confirmed)

Counter-indicators:
Confirmed lack of mercury toxicity often contraindicates Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Confirmed lack of mercury toxicity

Symptoms - Head - Eyes/Ocular

Bulging eyes from hyperthyroidism may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Bulging eyes from hyperthyroidism
Marked proptosis (bug eyes), or eye changes typical of hyperthyroidism have been associated with mercury toxicity.

Uro-Genital

Nocturia may suggest Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Nocturia

Risk factors for Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness):
ChildhoodDelayed/early/late puberty onset may increase risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Delayed/early/late puberty onset

Metabolic

Bruxism (Clenching/Grinding Teeth) often increases risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Bruxism (Clenching/Grinding Teeth)
People with mercury amalgam fillings who grind their teeth or chew gum can suffer additional mercury release.

Supplements and Medications

Counter-indicators:
Heavy metal detoxification use often decreases risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Heavy metal detoxification use

Symptoms - Food - Intake

High cold water fish consumption may increase risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Moderate/low/high cold water fish consumption
Although mercury occurs naturally in the environment, of bigger concern is the mercury that is released into the air through industrial pollution. When mercury falls from the air into water, it is converted into "methylmercury" by bacteria in the water. Methylmercury accumulates in streams and oceans where it is absorbed by fish as they feed in these waters. Mercury levels are highest in older, larger predatory fish. Larger predatory fish accumulate high levels of mercury by eating smaller fish (that contain mercury) who have eaten even smaller fish (that contain mercury).

Nearly all fish and shellfish contain trace amounts, but some fish contain much more, depending on how big they are, how long they live, what they eat, and where they were caught. According to an FDA survey, the fish with the highest average levels of mercury are, in order:

(Highest levels of mercury - at least 1 part per million): tilefish (golden bass or golden snapper), shark, swordfish, king mackerel; ("Mid-levels" of mercury - around 1/2 part per million): grouper, orange roughy, marlin, Spanish mackerel, tuna.

Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral

(Much) past amalgam filling removal often increases risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  (Much) past amalgam filling removal
Having amalgam fillings often increases risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Having amalgam fillings
It has been erroneously taught in dental school that amalgam is a stable alloy which does not release mercury in the mouth. A person with 8 fillings releases 120mcg of mercury into the mouth every day. As much as 17mcg of that gets absorbed into the body. In its vapor form the mercury is fat-soluble, and favors lungs and mucous membranes at first. Then it crosses tissue barriers, including the blood-brain barrier and also the placenta. Mercury then accumulates in the brain, the gut, and the liver.

The largest study of amalgam toxicity ever done took place at the University of Tübingen in Germany in 1995. With over 20,000 subjects, this study showed conclusively that mercury from amalgams is continually released in quantities large enough to be identified in the saliva. The designer of the study, Dr. Peter Krauss, noted that in some patients the amount of mercury in saliva could be as high as 100 times the WHO 'safe' level.

Poorly-removed amalgams often increases risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Poorly-removed amalgams

Counter-indicators:
Carefully-removed amalgams often decreases risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Carefully-removed amalgams
Not having any amalgam fillings often decreases risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Not having any amalgam fillings

Symptoms - Muscular

History of tender muscles may increase risk of Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  History of tender muscles

Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness) can lead to:
CirculationMercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness) sometimes leads to Cardiomyopathy  Cardiomyopathy
Mercury levels in the heart tissue of individuals who died from Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy (IDCM) were found to be on average 22,000 times higher than in individuals who died of other forms of heart disease. [J Amer Coll Cardiology v33(6) pp.1578-1583,1999]

Recommendations and treatments for Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness):
Amino Acid / ProteinCysteine / N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) often helps with Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Cysteine / N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)
The ability of NAC to enhance methylmercury excretion when given orally, its relatively low toxicity, and its wide availability in the clinical setting indicate that it may be an ideal therapeutic agent for use in cases of methylmercury poisoning. [Environ Health Perspectives, 1998, 106(5): pp.267-71]

Earlier concerns over NAC causing mercury to accumulate in the brain and kidneys, as can occur with L-cysteine, now appear to be unfounded. The initial concerns were opinions only, based on L-cysteine research, not NAC research. Still, some clinicians feel that symptom worsening occurs with the use of large doses of NAC (over 300mg per day), especially if they already have elevated levels of L-cysteine. If L-cystiene levels are elevated, cystiene containing products such as protein powders should be avoided.

L-Glutathione often helps with Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  L-Glutathione
Glutathione can cross the blood-brain barrier; it can remove mercury, cadmium and other toxic metals from the brain.

Botanical

Chlorella often helps with Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Chlorella
Using large doses of chlorella facilitates fecal mercury excretion. After the intestinal mercury burden is lowered by other means, mercury will more readily migrate into the intestine from other body tissues where chlorella will aid in its removal.

Garlic may help with Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Garlic
Garlic chelates heavy metals such as cadmium, gold, lead and mercury, and acts as a detoxifier.

Dental

Dental Metal Removal is highly recommended for Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Dental Metal Removal
Dental amalgam removal is an important first step in reducing your ongoing exposure to mercury.

Detoxification

Heavy Metal Detoxification / Avoidance is highly recommended for Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Heavy Metal Detoxification / Avoidance
Chelation Therapy is highly recommended for Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Chelation Therapy
EDTA is so effective at removing unwanted minerals and metals from the blood, it has been the standard-FDA-approved-treatment for lead, mercury, aluminum and cadmium poisoning for more than 50 years.

Attapulgite often helps with Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Attapulgite
Activated Attapulgite (clay) chelates (bonds) with heavy metals throughout the intestinal tract.

Diet

High/Increased Fiber Diet often helps with Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  High/Increased Fiber Diet
Sodium alginate as well as other gel-forming fibers have been shown to inhibit heavy metal uptake in the gut.

Cilantro may help with Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Cilantro
Cilantro may help mobilize heavy metals from the brain and central nervous system.


Not recommended:
Increased Fish Consumption is often not recommended for Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Increased Fish Consumption
There is increasing concern over fish, which are being found to contain significant levels of mercury. These levels are coming from eating smaller fish which have been bio-accumulating mercury over time. The large predator fish, such as swordfish/marlin, ahi (yellow fin tuna), king mackerel, shark (often sold as imitation crab), and tilefish have the highest accumulations because they are at the top of the food chain (well, almost!) Many people who consume significant amounts of these fish are showing very elevated levels of mercury in their hair. The FDA is currently recommending most other fish as safe for consumption at amounts of 1kg per week or less.

Lab Tests/Rule-Outs

Hair Analysis is highly recommended for Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Hair Analysis
Hair analysis is a reasonable and inexpensive first step toward diagnosing heavy metal toxicity.

Mineral

Selenium is highly recommended for Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Selenium
Selenium chelates heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury and silver.

Molybdenum may help with Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Molybdenum
Molybdenum may be useful in the treatment of certain cardiovascular conditions, asthma, allergies and mercury toxicity.

MSM (Methyl Sulfonyl Methane) may help with Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  MSM (Methyl Sulfonyl Methane)
Mobilization AND excretion are required for mercury detoxification. Consuming foods high in sulfur such as garlic, onions, beans, and eggs or supplemental sulfur in the form of MSM can help move mercury around but it is only bound loosely and caution is advised. There have been reported cases of reversible cataract development from individuals mobilizing mercury without excreting it. Consult a qualified doctor for a detoxification protocol appropriate for you.

Nutrient

Alpha Lipoic Acid is highly recommended for Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)  Alpha Lipoic Acid
Sources of sulfur such as alpha lipoic acid, MSM and garlic are helpful for protection against heavy metals in general and specifically useful in mercury toxicity. Alpha lipoic acid should not be used alone, as it only mobilizes mercury with a weak bond. Without additional chelators present, such as DMPS or DMSA, the mercury may just redistribute elsewhere in the body instead of being removed.

 

Environmental Illness / MCS: Overview

Alternative Names: Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / MCS, Environmental Illness, Ecological Illness, Total Allergy Syndrome, Multiple Allergy, Chemical Injury, Chemical Sensitivity.

Chemical sensitivity disorder or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is defined as "an acquired disorder characterized by recurrent symptoms, referable to multiple organ systems, occurring in response to exposure to many chemically unrelated compounds at doses below those established in the general population to cause harmful effects."

Most of us need little convincing that our urban environments are polluted. The belief that the food chain is contaminated with toxic chemicals is universal and readily validated. The exact number of persons suffering from chemical sensitivity is unclear, but the rise in immune and nervous system disorders indicates that this problem is becoming more common, and somewhat more widely recognized.
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Everyone knows someone who is sensitive to particular household products. We all recognize that people vary widely in their response to a room full of cigarette smoke - some people can ignore it easily while others react with stuffy nose, teary eyes, coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath. It should be no surprise, therefore, to learn that scientists are now confirming that different people react differently to modern compounds such as dry cleaning solvents, perfumes, detergents, glues, waxes, pesticides and other common household and industrial chemicals.

The prevailing rational and scientific viewpoint is that although some people are sensitive to small amounts of one or a few specific chemicals, there is no general hypersensitivity to chemicals. Scientifically oriented allergists, psychiatrists and occupational health clinicians suspect that the majority of "MCS" (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) patients suffer from psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety reactions and somatization (bodily reactions to stress).

On the other hand, clinical ecologists (doctors who specialize in environmental illness), believe that MCS is a widespread condition caused by exposure to common foods, chemicals and other stressors that can sensitize people, causing them to react adversely to even tiny amounts of these substances.

Both inorganic compounds (such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and heavy metals) and organic compounds (pesticides, formaldehyde, phenol, etc.) are involved. A major indicator of chemical sensitivity is multi-system 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.

Incidence; Causes and Development

MCS is thought to afflict somewhere between 2% and 15% of the American public, and appears to be increasing, according to a publication of the American Chemical Society.

It has been suggested that MCS is not the best name for this family of ailments because it fails to reflect the importance of the initiating chemical exposure. Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) better describes the true nature of the illness(es) initiated by a toxic exposure which leads to the loss of tolerance of common chemicals. Different initiating events may give rise to somewhat different ailments, all of which cause sensitivity to chemicals - just as different infectious diseases can all cause a fever.

There are over 70,000 chemicals commercially produced in the United States today. The long-term, low dose effects of many of these chemicals have never been investigated. With the construction of closed buildings, the rise in use of toxic construction materials, and an increase in the use of office machines, an environment of indoor air pollution has been created. Some 60% of indoor chemicals are generated by products or machines used indoors.

The main mechanism for chemical sensitivity seems to be the failure of the body's 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, after specific non-chemical events such as massive trauma or surgery, after severe infections (viral, bacterial, parasitic) or with no identifiable cause.

Because most of the toxic chemicals involved are fat-soluble, they become stored in the body's fat, resistant to metabolism and excretion. In fact, chemical levels measured from fat biopsies are sometimes 300 times greater than circulating serum levels.

Signs and Symptoms

Some people react violently to chemicals, to the point of being made ill by very low doses of common substances. The possible list of symptoms is almost endless, varying from one patient to the next. Most sufferers of MCS complain of at least several of the following:
  • burning, stinging eyes
  • wheezing, breathlessness
  • nausea
  • extreme fatigue / lethargy
  • headache / migraine
  • vertigo / dizziness / disorientation
  • poor memory / concentration
  • runny nose / stuffiness
  • sore throat, cough
  • sinus problems
  • skin rashes
  • itching
  • sensitivity to light / noise
  • sleep problems
  • poor digestion
  • swelling
  • muscle / joint pain.
The poorly-understood nature of MCS means that doctors are often highly sceptical about the reality and nature of the MCS condition.

Two important phenomena to understand regarding the symptoms 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 e.g. photocopier fumes initially caused headache, and subsequently caused no headache but wheezing.

Diagnosis and Tests

The timing of symptoms after exposure, reproducibility of the symptoms, spreading, and switching must all be investigated. Serum levels of suspected chemicals confirm the diagnosis. If serum levels are negative and suspicion is high, a fat biopsy must be performed to complete the diagnosis. Additionally, chemical challenge tests can demonstrate the cause-and-effect relationship between a chemical exposure and symptoms.

To distinguish between MCS and other allergy-related illnesses, the following deciding criteria apply:
  • The patient reacts to both large and often extremely low levels of irritants/toxicants/triggers
  • Other individuals present at the same time may be unable to detect anything at all unusual
  • The problem is chronic, not a 'one-off' event
  • The same symptoms are reproducible with repeated exposure to the same triggers
  • The patient is affected by many different triggers
  • The patient improves when triggers are absent.
Treatment and Prevention

MCS is difficult to treat due to its variable nature from one patient to the next. Treatment with conventional medicine and practices is therefore often ineffective or inappropriate; for most sufferers with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, the avoidance of pollutants/toxins is the key.