Like a good mystery novel, the term chemical sensitivity or allergy, starts out with a seemingly simple plot where you might think you know what’s coming next. Then a new piece of evidence creates tension and generates more questions, more suspects, and more avenues to travel to solve the puzzle. To truly understand chemical sensitivities you have to be a bit of a sleuth. As part of my sleuthing I found the book Chemical Sensitivity; Environmental diseases and pollutants-how they hurt us how to deal with them by Sherry A Rogers, M.D., which I found very helpful. The excerpts below are from Roger’s book. 

Like a good mystery novel, the term chemical sensitivity, starts out with a seemingly simple plot where you might think you know what’s coming next. Then a new piece of evidence creates tension and generates more questions, more suspects, and more avenues to travel to solve the puzzle. To truly understand chemical sensitivities or allergies you have to be a bit of a sleuth. As part of my sleuthing I found the book Chemical Sensitivity; Environmental diseases and pollutants-how they hurt us how to deal with them by Sherry A Rogers, M.D., which I found very helpful. The excerpts below are from Roger’s book.

Chemical sensitivities  or allergies leave many doctors scratching their heads because diagnosing them and treating them don’t follow a typical pattern or predictability other illnesses do. The rules for engagement with a particular chemical are far from predictable from one person to the next, even within a family. The rules of engagement:

“1. It can produce any symptom, in any person, at any time, but the brain is the most common target organ involved.

2. There is a vast range of susceptibility.” (p. 8)

For some patients simply avoiding the chemical can help them heal. Others aren’t so lucky. Not only do they not heal they “worsened; becoming reactive to many items that never before bothered them.” (p. 8) Which created another rule of engagement with a surprising plot twist that made the story more dangerous and got my attention:

“3. The spreading phenomenon.  Exposure to one chemical produced susceptibility to other environmental components.” (p. 9)

I read those sentences over more than a dozen times. I didn’t like the implication that I might be on a precipice where one wrong step could put me over the edge into being allergic to so much more. A friend, Mary, kept coming to mind. Mary was pretty much housebound the entire time I knew her because of chemical allergies. I saw how hard life was for her, how vigilant she had to be. Guests at her home could not come in if they wore deodorant or anything with a fragrance. I don’t want Mary’s reality to become mine and have a hard time grappling with it all. (More information on this in the future under “Total Load Concept”)

Like a mystery novel not everyone is affected by the antagonist, as verified by rule of engagement 1. It depends on three factors in the overall plot.

• First, the setting for the mystery. Let’s face it, we’re a walking bag of chemistry – what we’re born with, what we’ve eaten, and the burden of chemicals we’ve been exposed to in the environment over our lifetime.

Photo from Dominic Statham’s 2010 article “Are We More Than a Bag of Chemicals?” [4] http://www.eoht.info/page/Bag+of+chemicals

 • Second, the cast of characters past and present. Our genetic heritage, which is programming unique to each of us that basically makes us more susceptible, or more able, to deal with physical issues.

• Third, the suspects known and unknown. The number one suspect is us. What we eat, the exercise we get, and the sleep we get either boosts or depletes our bodies immunity system. Eating chemically laden junk food, or continuing to work in a situation that is not healthy, or with chemicals we intuitively know are not good all play a roll. Seemingly trivial things have a cumulative affect and can turn out to be the surprise culprit.

As an artist I know that I have been exposed to a myriad of chemicals and that I was not good about protecting myself. When I started using the chemicals we were not as aware as we are today that we needed to be careful. I come from the generation that as a kid it was fun to play with the mercury from a broken thermometer. That said, I can see the plot does seem to be in my favor. I found comfort in the fact that – “Each of us has the ability to metabolize (or break down and get rid of) foreign chemicals (xenobiotics), a process known as xenobiotic detoxication.” (p.9)

Zinc – Photo from Wikipedia – Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10399404

Xenobiotic detoxication happens in our cells in two phases. First, in the cell a chemical process happens that starts to make the bad chemical less toxic. This process in the body uses up nutrients like zinc, and we can become deficient in whatever nutrient is used. Added to that, the processed food we eat is depleted of the same nutrients we need so it becomes hard for the body to recover. “Another important enzyme in phase I detoxication is aldehyde oxidase, which requires molybdenum, abundant in beans, an item no longer popular in the standard American diet (Elsborg 1983).”

Okay, so here’s a cliffhanger for our little mystery. The odds are getting stacked against the main character (us) when it comes to staying healthy. First, the very nutrients we need to combat our antagonistic chemicals have been depleted in the processing of food in an effort to give it a longer shelf life or, like beans, are not a go-to for the dinner table anymore. Second, the very antagonistic chemicals we need to combat to stay healthy are found the food we eat as a result of the way it was grown. Which leaves me thinking – What is a person to do?

Phase two of detoxication involves a chain of “molecules called the cytocrome P-450 system.” (p. 10)

Cytocrome – Photo from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytochrome_P450

They are in the cellular membranes and “caries out a process called conjugation. This is where chemical groups, including glutathione and other sulfur compounds, are attached to the offending chemical in order to detoxify it.” (p. 10) After it is detoxified the body can eliminate it. I am amazed at what our bodies can do without us even knowing about it.

However, there is a issue with the system and the world we live in. “molecule for molecule, the conjugate is lost forever. For example, for each molecule of pesticide (often imperceptibly odorless) that is conjugated with glutathione to be excreted in the stool, a molecule of glutathione (the conjugate) is also lost. It costs the body energy and nutrients in order to make glutathione. The bottom line is that the work of the detoxication uses up, and loses forever, energy and nutrients in the process of detoxifying the chemicals that we breath and eat each day. But much of the time we are unaware of even being exposed to any chemicals.” (p.10)

Wow, that is a lot to process. So I’ll leave you in suspense for now. Upcoming posts will include the Total Load Concept is and the roll it plays in chemical sensitivity or allergy and what for me is pretty scary the Spreading Phenomenon and Total Load Concept. More on that later.