There are times in life when we are forced to let go of something that plays a large part in our self image. In doing so, we have to establish a new identity with a new definition of self–for better or worse. My makeup and body products were that something for me. Not too “deep” of me, I know. But, I am a girly, girl. At the core of who I am, I love fragrance, makeup, hairspray, in other words, everything that is probably terrible for my health from a toxicity standpoint.
While I wish that I could claim that I gave those products up as a proactive move to better my health, and the environment, I must confess that I was forced to quit using them. I am extremely chemically sensitive now. My body cannot tolerate perfumes, sulfates, petroleum-based additives, chemicals, etc.
I wasn’t always this way, though. So, what does that mean? What caused this “sudden” hypersensitivity to products I had used forever? Does it have anything to do with mold?
What I can tell you with certainty is that mold exposure and toxicity does cause chemical sensitivity and a large toxic burden primes the body for sensitivity to chemicals and for reactions to environmental toxins, like mold. Unfortunately, for people who have chemical sensitivity, this is one of those chicken or the egg scenarios that is difficult to reason through. To give you a clear illustration of how chemical sensitivity manifests, I’ll chart the timeline of events in my story.
I do want you to keep in mind, though, a key fact:
When I trace the trajectory of how and when I became so sensitive to chemicals, the path is completely in line with that of our mold exposure.
My Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) story:
I started to notice my aversion to fragrance and perfumes first. Out of nowhere, or so it seemed to me, I could no longer tolerate wearing my favorite perfume, or being around anyone wearing fragrance. Any fragrance would give me a headache and distract me to the point of irritation. My aversion to scents grew to include cleaning products, dryer sheets, shampoo, adhesives, paint, basically anything with a smell to it that does not come from a natural source.
(Note: We bring toxic chemicals into our homes regularly with fragrance, cleaning, personal health, and hygiene products. These products that we use everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, account for many the chemicals that begin to build up in our bodies and increase our overall toxic loads. For example, the average woman encounters 126 chemicals from makeups and body products BEFORE leaving the house each day. The average male encounters 60.)
Then, we found the leak and the mold in our HVAC system. It had been there when we moved into the home, and we had been inhaling and living in a very high concentration of toxic mold ever since. I definitely had not been really well, or “right” for a while, separate from the fragrance issues, but at the time, I had just had my daughter, and attributed my fatigue, brain fog, sinus issues and new chemical sensitivity to being hormonally out of whack and sleep deprived.
My chemical sensitivities then got so bad that pumping gas at the gas station or walking into a department store made me physically nauseous. At this point, the chemicals were interfering with my daily life.
Next, my skin started to “light up” when I used our body wash or my favorite salon shampoo. These were both products that I had used for years. Since, I did not fully understand the toxic pathway or what mold could do to my body, I went to my primary care doctor for guidance. He referred me to a dermatologist. The dermatologist promptly prescribed a steroid cream for the affected areas. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but, the cream did NOT help. It actually seemed to make my skin more sensitive to anything else it came into contact with. In fact, the ONLY thing that seemed to really help me was avoiding fragrances or chemicals altogether. I even switched gyms to one that did not allow fragrance in the locker room.
My sensitivities to chemicals started to isolate me at the same time that the other sickness from the mold began to really take hold. I threw out all of my makeup and used castile soap, a crystal deodorant and coconut oil for everything that had to do with self care. I felt like a shell of my former self. The ritual that went with getting myself ready everyday and using my favorite products is one that I dearly loved. It made me feel put together, and was hard to abandon without feeling sad and like I was losing myself to the mold.
Thankfully, we got out of the moldy home, and I was able to heal my body. But, I have still not been able to return to using some of my old products.
That brings me back to the reason for this post:
Where does a toxin-harmed, chemically sensitive person turn for products that they can use and trust?
To answer that question, we have to look closer at Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and what causes it:
While MCS has not yet been recognized by the medical community as a “medical diagnosis,” it has been mentioned in health journals since the 1960’s. Most doctors cited it as a psychological problem, because they could not identify an underlying cause with any testing or physical examination. Thus, it often went undiagnosed and untreated as anything more than something that was “in the patient’s head.”
At the same time, if we look back in US environmental and medical history where deadly toxins have, in several cases, taken decades to be recognized and/or banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, we can see that, to date, there are still only a handful of substances have had special attention and regulation by the EPA. There are also toxins, like Asbestos, Chlorofluorocarbons, Hexavalent Chromium, cigarettes, and second-hand tobacco smoke, that are now proven and understood to be dangerous for health, but remain in some form in our environments. Formaldehyde, was recognized by the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) as recently as 2016 as a “known” carcinogen. (Note: Formaldehyde is almost as ubiquitous as mold in our lives. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials.) In addition, most homes, building materials, furnishings, and household goods today are made with toxic materials that either off-gas and are known to be toxic, or have not been regulated or recognized as substances that cause harm. In my opinion, it is somewhat ironic that the medical community has lagged so far behind in recognition of the health repercussions of all of these chemicals.
Now, let’s consider two historical events that helped create the toxic indoor environments of today: 1) The 1970s energy crisis placed an onus on the building community to build “tighter,” sealed homes for energy efficiency. 2) The introduction and soon to follow widespread use of central air conditioning compounded the pressures to build efficient homes. As a result, cheaper building materials were used, such as particle board and drywall. We now know that those materials do not fare well over time and become food for mold when exposed to moisture. There was also no recognition that pumping cool air into a sealed indoor space optimized humidity and condensation to the point that mold would grow and flourish inside on building materials and other furnishings like carpet. Finally, widespread use of chemical flame retardants on carpets, upholstery, and fabrics began. These materials off-gas chemicals, which are now known to severely impact patients with MCS.
Once a large enough part of the population was continuously exposed to toxic indoor environments, pesticides, and enough chemicals in products, it was inevitable that people would start reacting and getting sick. Because MCS symptoms are so wide-ranging, varied and overlap with many other illnesses, diseases and chronic conditions, it has taken longer for the medical community to acknowledge it as a illness in and of itself. Now, after decades of studies and research on environmental and chemical toxins and on patients with MCS, science does show undeniable connections between the two. Studies also show that MCS patients typically have other health issues, like fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, high levels of heavy metals, or a large toxic exposure (mold for me), a long history of working with chemicals, physical trauma—a fall, a head injury, or another chronic health condition that could’ve led to or caused their chemical sensitivities.
What Can You Do if You Have MCS?
MCS research, mostly by doctors, scientists and toxicologists operating outside of the constraints of conventional medicine, has proven that there are things patients can do to make things easier and their bodies less reactive.
1) As I have said countless times, the quality of the air you breathe is more important than any treatment for chemical toxicity. Thus, testing and cleaning for mold and using non-toxic chemicals and air purification systems in your indoor environments is imperative.
2) Eliminating toxic, chemical-laden and fragranced products from the home yields relief for sufferers.
3) Another treatment strategy that benefits MCS patients is continual, controlled detox. The more that toxins can be cleared, so that body burden is low, the better the healing process.
4) Since most MCS patients have backed-up detox pathways (part of what leads to the condition is an inability to properly detox), prolonged liver, kidney, nutrient, and digestive support is also crucial to their recovery. The body can and does heal when it is able to metabolize these toxins. This usually occurs during sleep; however, if your body is compromised or continually assaulted with environmental toxins, like mold, or new irritants, this healing can never take place.
5) In addition, sufferers can use some online resources, like the American Environmental Health Foundation, to locate and purchase special products for chemically sensitive people. You also can reference the work of Dr. William Rea—one of the top doctors in the country and recognized all over the world for his treatment and research on MCS and environmentally- and chemically-triggered illness and disease.
About Dr. Rea
Dr. William Rea has devoted his practice to helping MCS and chronic illness patients. He focuses on finding solutions that alleviate their suffering. (Dr. Rea has successfully treated more than 30,000 patients with chemical sensitivity and degenerative disease.) He has published numerous Medical Textbooks on environmental illness and published over 100 articles in Peer Review Journals and is internationally recognized for advancing the medical communities understanding of environmental illness.
The Environmental Health Center in Dallas Texas is Dr. Rea’s state-of-the-art facility that provides a place where patients can safely go for treatment, and that also offers a living facility for patients that need a toxin-safe environment in order to heal. The facility was built applying “Building Biology” principles free of Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) and microbial contaminants. It employs HVAC systems, de-humidification, and air filtration using applied physics to ensure high Indoor Air Quality.
It is due to the work of Dr. Rea and his colleagues that we know the MCS pathway:
- The body is exposed to some foreign compound that it is unable to get rid of. As the body continually attempts to detox unsuccessfully it begins to turn on itself. An allergic component coincides—not the same as an autoimmune reaction, but more of in the sense of a growing intolerance, where reactions increase and are widespread.
- Finally, the immune system implodes, causing reactions to everything, as the body, rather than going after what triggered the immune response, goes after everything it is exposed to on a large scale.
- A change the patient’s in brain chemistry can result, because he/she cannot trust any product or environment to be safe. It is incredibly painful and debilitating for the patient and those that love them.
The American Environmental Health Foundation (AEHF)
AEHF was founded by Dr. Rea in 1975. It is a non-profit that researches and provides education about multiple chemical sensitivities. The foundation was established to examine dangerous toxins in the environment and provide a resource to both physicians and patients to turn to when traditional Western medicine does not suffice.
AEHF has funded over 30 Major Medical Research Projects, and has sponsored a yearly symposium on Environmental illness, The International Symposium on Man and His Environment in Health and Disease, an annual medical symposium held in Dallas, Texas. This symposium supports the education and training of physicians, students, and research scientists and is supported internationally by physicians and health care professionals dedicated to treating patients suffering from environmental illness.
The foundation also provides an online store to sell and promote products that are safe for patients. These products help patients avoid bringing toxic substances into their homes. The store sells chemical-free products for the home and body with ALL proceeds going to further MCS research. As many of you know, these products can be quite expensive, so if you are not making your own cleaners and self-care products, like I often do (I will include links here to my posts on products that I made), purchasing them for the budget conscious can be quite an investment.
The online store carries nearly 1,500 environmentally safe products for the home and office, including, personal care products, pollutant detection kits, , household cleaning products, vitamin and mineral supplements, air filters and purifiers, – Home Project DIY friendly supplies , and water filtration systems and saunas.
I encourage you, even if you do not suffer from MCS, to check out the AEHF website. It is important to know what alternatives are out there as far as non-toxic products go that can help to lower your toxic burden and make your home and your body healthier. All of these things go hand-in-hand: the toxins increase your susceptibility to mold illness, just as mold exposure increases your immune response to other toxins. You really have to address the problems as they relate to each other to be successful with recovery.
Also, stay tuned, because next week, I will be featuring one of the product lines sold in the American Environmental Health Foundation store, Earthview. The company’s founder and I sit down for an enlightening interview where we cover everything from his family’s story, to the way he tests and sources their product ingredients, to his MCS “hacks” for living a less isolated life.
There is so much to learn about environmental illness, contributing factors, and the illness itself. I am so happy to be creating a community who cares about and wants to learn more on this topic. Please comment or write to me with any questions or if you would like to share your story. I love hearing from you!