Monday, August 18, 2014

Chemical Sensitivity: How it Works and How to Treat it

Medical journal articles report solid evidence that our bodies can reduce chemical burden by safe, simple therapeutic activities.

Farm fields and smokestacks.

Dana, 49, is a patient of mine at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the Seattle teaching clinic of Bastyr University. She began experiencing sensitivity to chemicals a few years ago. At first it was a tolerable increase in her awareness of scents in stores, cars, elevators, at work and around other people. Increasingly it became disruptive, reducing her ability to focus and making her tired, nauseous and achy. It became difficult to shop, travel, work or socialize in public places. Dana noticed that when specific smells were in the air, she felt unwell. She also noticed that the more anxiously she anticipated encountering something she might react to, the more she would react when she did encounter something.

We know from evidence and theory published in medical immunology journals that environmental chemicals can cause many abnormalities in our immune responses. They add up to the condition called chemical sensitivity. For the most part, these are chemicals found unnaturally in our environment, either because humans manufactured them synthetically or because we isolate and concentrate them. They include partially unburned fuel from motor vehicles, fumigants added to foods between harvest and table, agricultural and industrial air and water pollution, and off-gassing (evaporation) of solvents, glues and resin compounds that are part of most of our flooring, carpets, furniture, construction materials, water pipes, paint, polish, cleaners, pots and pans, and even clothing.

Most of these chemicals are especially stable when surrounded by fats and oils, so they slowly accumulate in our tissues, particularly our fatty tissues. Medical science is discovering more and more about how these chemicals accumulate and affect us. They affect us in many different ways, most involving an immune activation called inflammation. They are being connected to cardiovascular disease, depression, fatigue, obesity, arthritis, asthma, cancer, autoimmune disease, thyroid disease and other conditions.

People with chemical sensitivities have acquired more immune and tissue irritants beyond what their bodies can cope with. Think of it as a threshold of tolerance that varies from person to person. Once that threshold is surpassed, it triggers various alarms that we call “symptoms.” The good news is that helping Dana and others is as simple or complex as reducing their total synthetic chemical load while increasing their basic chemical tolerance. That’s what we do.

Hundreds of medical journal articles report solid evidence that our bodies can reduce this chemical burden by safe, simple therapeutic activities. These activities together are called depuration therapy, from the root “to make pure again.” Assembling these activities into a therapeutic regimen chemical sensitivity is still considered experimental. Fortunately, it is very safe, and in our experience it is effective.

The cornerstones of depuration for people with chemical sensitivity and other toxin-related illnesses are these therapies:

  • Nutrient-dense, high-fiber diets
  • Fiber supplements
  • Sweating induced by exercise and saunas
  • Specific nutrient and antioxidant tissue support

Over several visits, we assessed Dana’s condition and started her on these therapies in a way that fits her lifestyle. Dana will be using them regularly for 6 to12 months. Real healing and recovery takes time, just as it took time for her body to develop illness. We consistently observe that a patient’s reactivity will steadily lessen through this course of treatment.

Most patients’ chemical sensitivity does not entirely disappear, and perhaps we would not want it to, as having an alarm system when we encounter potential poisons is not a bad thing. But they usually get much improvement and get their lives back. This is what Dana can look forward to.

— By John Hibbs, ND (’83), core faculty member at Bastyr University and Bastyr Center for Natural Health

FALL 2015
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