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My Son's Experience and Recovery from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

My younger son has had significant problems with MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity) this past year. He would get head aches and stomach aches from cigarette smoke, car exhaust fumes, pressed wood, new carpet at his doctors office and the new car smell from the inside of a new van we bought.

My son and I had both suffered from MCS from time to time in the past, but during those times it was usually after we were on antibiotics. Taking probiotics to restore our normal intestinal flora and eating a diet higher in magnesium foods had helped. But this time around my son seemed to have more complex and harder to treat issues.

Antibiotics are known to be a possible factor in magnesium deficiency, and magnesium is one of the main nutrients needed for detoxification. So if you are like my family perhaps antibiotics causing low magnesium levels may be a trigger for your chemical sensitivity episodes.

Here is a good link on the topic:

Magnesium - from the Office of Dietary Supplements � Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center � National Institutes of Health - "Some medicines may result in magnesium deficiency, including certain diuretics, antibiotics, and medications used to treat cancer."

We had his nutrition levels tested and found he was low in:

  • zinc
  • magnesium
  • the amino acid cysteine

Although I didn't realize it at the time of testing, evidently these are common deficiencies in people with MCS. While most conventional medical doctors are skeptical that MCS even exists, it is thought by holistic and environmental illness physicians that these deficiencies are common in people with MCS because they are key nutrients involved in many of the body's detoxification processes. Without an adequate supply of nutrients to detoxify chemicals, people can get sick from minor exposure to fumes from everyday items such as pressed wood, laundry detergent or car exhaust, chemicals people with adequate nutrient stores are usually not even consciously aware of.

Most of the furniture available at department and discount stores may look like real wood, but it is likely to really have been made from pressed wood products.
wood looking chest of drawers

We have difficulty giving our son supplements as he is often sensitive to them, as he is with many medications. So we just tried to feed him a healthy diet high in the nutrients he was deficient in. It worked somewhat, but he would still frequently get ill any time we ate out lot at restaurants or if he went to a party and had junk foods like cake, soda and pizza.

I bought numerous books on MCS to try to help him. Many focused on changing his environment to eliminate exposure to chemicals and other toxins. To a certain degree this seemed like a good idea, but with school, scouts, soccer, field trips and other environments out of out my control, it wasn't always practical. I always felt the long term and more practical approach to MCS was to build up his body's immune system so it would be able to detoxify chemicals like everyone else's immune system does. I didn't want to focus completely on eliminating all chemicals from his environment. As he got older I wanted him to be able to buy a new car some day and not get sick from the smell or work in an office building with new carpeting.

So for several months he would be fine some days and then have his bad days where he would be home and ill with headaches and stomach aches. Certain foods would set him off as well as most strong smells.

When my son ate luch in the school cafeteria, he would get sick when he left school and walked near the school bus exhast fumes. back view of a school bus When he started taking an organic sack lunch from home, he could walk by the bus fumes with no problem. His body was detoxifying the fumes better.

We started keeping a diet diary and testing his body's pH each day to try to find clues as to what was wrong with him. From the diary we found that he got much worse after eating hot dogs and when his body was more acidic. He got better from tostados with mashed pinto beans and bananas and when his body was more alkaline. This was different than when he had mold allergies, as he seemed to be worse from the mold allergies when his body was more alkaline. In any case, we noticed he had the least amount health issues when his body was in the normal pH range. See my section on Alkaline and acid foods for more on this topic.

I looked up hot dogs on the Internet to see what was in them that might be causing the problems and found they were high in nitrites. That led me to an article by Martin L. Pall, Professor of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences on chemical sensitivity. Dr. Pall, himself a former MCS sufferer, has a theory that MCS is caused by elevated levels of nitric oxide and its oxidant product, peroxynitrite. He feels this may be the central cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivity. I think Dr. Pall may be onto something.

These days we buy nitrite-free hot dogs and bacon from Trader Joe's.   six hot dogs stacked on a plate

After doing a little more digging, I found out that mashed pinto beans, the dish that helped my son, is high in magnesium. Interestingly, magnesium lowers nitric oxide levels. I also found out that nitric oxide is formed more easily in the body in an acidic environment, which would have explained why my son got worse when his body was more acidic. Bananas are a traditional cure for acid stomachs and ulcers, as they are reputed to make the GI tract more alkaline, so this may have explained why the bananas helped him. I suspect the alkalinity and magnesium content of the bananas both worked to lower his nitric oxide levels. Hot dogs contains nitrites, which help to form nitric oxide, which may have explained why he got worse from hot dogs.

"....pollutants infiltrate and damage delicate detoxification mechanisms of the body and rapidly deplete the body's nutrient reserves of precursors and co-factors needed by the liver to keep toxins from suppressing immunity and congesting the lymphatic system." From Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Understanding Causative Factors. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients

My son would often get sick on Mondays, and now we realize it was because we would go out on Sundays frequently for brunch and he would order bacon preserved with nitrites. So bingo! In light of Dr. Pall's scientific explanations, now everything that was wrong with my son was starting to make sense.

As of this writing we've had my son off nitrites for a couple of weeks and he has been in the best health he has been in for months. He doesn't get ill from being inside our new van any more or from car fumes. Perhaps eliminating nitrites may not be the total answer for everyone with multiple chemical sensitivity problems, but for my son they seem to have been a big cause of his problems.

Update - 1 month later: As I write this update to my MCS page, it has been about a month since my son stopped eating at the school cafeteria and has been off all soda and any foods with dyes or preservatives, especially nitrites. In the last 4 weeks, since he has been on this restricted diet, he has not missed any school from MCS and has only had one episode of getting ill from smells or fumes. That episode occurred a couple of weeks ago when a school bus went by us that had visible exhaust fumes pouring out the back, and he did recover from that after exposure after only a few minutes, instead of having a headache for hours.

In the prior month, he used to complain of getting sick from smells or fumes at least 3 times a day, or about 90 times during the month, and would have missed at least 4 days of school due to MCS related headaches and stomach aches. As such, his recovery has been rather amazing.

Not only has he not been sick this past month, but he just seems much happier and he really enjoys feeling like a normal kid. He doesn't seem to mind being on the restricted diet since he feels so much better.

Update - 2 months later: My son no longer seems to have any MCS problems now. Car fumes and new carpeting no longer seems to bother him at all. Plus, when I pick him up from school, he is like a different child these days. Now he is happy and bubbly instead of tired and stressed.

Update 2 Years Later - My son had to take antibiotics again for the first time in two years. After the course of antibiotics he had his first significant relapse for the first time in two years of both mold allergies and chemical sensitivities. We put him back on his special diet and he soon started returning to normal.

Update - 8 Years Later: My son still doesn't like strong perfume or cleaning product scents, but other than that chemical smells no longer seem to bother him.



Sections in this series:

1. My son's experience and recovery from chemical sensitivity

2. Nutrition for MCS sufferers

3. Reducing chemical usage in your home

Related sections of interest:

Allergic to mold? Diet changes might help.

Beneficial Bacteria

Diet Tips for Irritable Bowel

Read my Section on Sinus Infections

Itchy Skin / Sensitive Skin

Natural Therapies for Morgellons - The cause of this disorder is controversial and not clearly understood. My family had some similar symptoms so I wrote up what we found helpful.

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