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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Allergy, General | August 25, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

allergy, general

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

We are constantly surrounded by chemicals in our environment such as petrol fumes, pesticides and cleaning products. Multiple chemical sensitivity is a chronic reaction to low levels of multiple chemicals which can be mild or severe. In a 2018 Australian study it revealed that 6.5% have been medically diagnosed Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and 18.9% report chemical sensitivity which involves being unusually sensitive to everyday chemicals and chemically formulated products. In MCS it is thought that the detoxification pathways in the body are impacted leading to a complex array of physical and emotional symptoms on exposure to chemicals that greatly impact a person’s quality of life.

MCS is poorly understood

There is uncertainty about the events and the underlying mechanisms that lead to symptoms in multiple chemical sensitivity. This uncertainty has hampered the development of a clinical basis for the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with MCS. Those with MCS often face situations where their symptoms may be poorly understood or misdiagnosed, and often not taken seriously.


Common symptoms experienced by people with multiple chemical sensitivity include:Multiple chemical sensitivity

  • Headache/migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain and breathing problems
  • Changes in heart rhythm
  • Nausea
  • Bloating, gas and diarrhoea
  • Nasal congestion, itching, sneezing and sore throat
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Skin rash
  • Memory problems, confusion and trouble concentrating
  • Mood changes, anxiety and depression

What are the triggers?

The triggers can vary for each person but can involve:

Outdoor Air Pollutants: Including pesticides, solvent, fuel and paint vapours, combustion products, tar fumes, diesel and car exhaust and industrial air pollution.

Indoor Air Pollutants: This includes all Domestic and Workplace Chemicals such as combustion products from gas or oil-fired heaters, sponge rubber bedding, padding and upholstery, plastics, insecticides, perfumes, paints, deodorisers, cleaning agents, disinfectants, mothballs, newsprint and other printed materials, fabrics in clothing, bedding and window coverings, particleboard, carpeting and carpet padding. This can also include odours of virtually any description especially petrochemical odours but also natural odours from woods or cooking foods.
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Foods, Food additives and Contaminants: E.g. corn and corn sugar, pesticide residues, fumigants, fungicides, sulphur treatments, artificial colours, sweeteners, preservatives, ripening chemicals such as ethylene oxide, protective waxes and packaging materials.
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Water Contaminants and Additives: Often certain types of drinking water can cause symptoms when consumed.
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Drugs and Consumer Products: There’s a long list which includes aspirin, barbiturates, flavouring agents, preservatives, mineral oils, adhesive tape, cosmetics, perfumes, personal hygiene products, synthetic fabrics, felt tipped pens, polishes, cleaners and chlorinated swimming pools.

Diagnosing MCS

While a case definition of MCS has not been universally agreed, the 1999 Consensus Criteria is commonly used in research definitions of MCS and the following criteria has been cited in Australian surveys.

  • The condition is chronic
  • Symptoms recur reproducibly (with repeated exposure of the same chemical)
  • Symptoms recur in response to low levels of exposure (lower than previously or commonly tolerated)
  • Symptoms occur when exposed to multiple unrelated chemicals
  • Symptoms improve or resolve when trigger chemicals are removed
  • Multiple organ systems are affected

What causes MCS?

Multiple chemical sensitivityMost people with MCS can trace their symptoms back to a time when they had a major acute chemical exposure or chronic low-level chemical exposure. 
The second stage is the sensitisation to a wider-range of unrelated chemicals. 

Genetic links to MCS have been shown. People with allergies such as hay fever or asthma are more likely to be sensitive to chemicals.

Even genetic polymorphisms which involve antioxidant enzymes and detoxification pathways have been found to be significantly impaired in MCS.

Avoiding triggers

The most effective way to reduce the symptoms of MCS is to avoid known chemical triggers. This involves creating a living space where toxic chemicals are minimised and avoiding where possible exposure to toxic chemicals. Below are some suggestions to follow.

  • Changing to more natural and non-toxic personal care products, cleaning products, laundry detergents, clothing, bedding and furniture
  • Removing products that people are sensitive to, such as carpet or particleboard furniture, from the home
  • Using non-toxic methods to control pests
  • Building or renovating using non-toxic or less-toxic building materials
  • Moving to a less polluted area
  • Using an effective air purifier and water filter
  • Avoiding foods that trigger symptoms and eating organic produce
  • Lifestyle changes to reduce chemical exposures

Natural therapies for MCS

Infrared sauna

During a session infrared waves penetrate the body to activate the sweat glands. Sweating is a natural process that allows the body to eliminate toxins. Infrared saunas warm the body in the same manner as natural sunlight and leave you feeling more invigorated compared to a traditional sauna that uses humidity and higher temperatures.


Multiple chemical sensitivityThe liver transforms toxins and eliminates oxidative stress, both of which can break down your chemical tolerance. To do this, the liver produces a key antioxidant called glutathione. Glutathione detoxifies the body and defends against disease. Apart from supplementing with glutathione, research shows that cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli help to restore levels of glutathione, relieve oxidative stress, enhance detoxification.
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B complex

A good quality B complex is essential to support liver detoxification, healthy methylation, energy production and nervous system support. It’s a good idea to get a formula that contains activated versions of vitamin B6 and B12 and folic acid.


Magnesium deficiency is common in chemically sensitive individuals. As magnesium is involved in over 500 enzyme systems, its depletion can result in poor detoxifying ability. Substances that deplete magnesium are pollutants, alcohols, diuretics, steroids, glucose, phosphate depletion and pesticides.

Zinc and vitamin C

Zinc is an essential nutrient that is important to chelate heavy metals in the body, support healthy immunity and mood and neutralise free radicals. It can also be taken with vitamin C to enhance antioxidant status.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Steinemann A. Prevalence and effects of multiple chemical sensitivities in Australia. Prev Med Rep. 2018 Mar 10;10:191-194.

Cui X, et al. Evaluation of genetic polymorphisms in patients with multiple chemical sensitivity. PLoS One. 2013 Aug 13;8(8):e73708

Rossi S, Pitidis A. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Review of the State of the Art in Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Future Perspectives. J Occup Environ Med. 2018 Feb;60(2):138-146

Kapusta-Duch J, et al. The beneficial effects of Brassica vegetables on human health. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2012;63(4):389-95

Hussain J, Cohen M. Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018; 2018: 1857413

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