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Updated by Environmental Illness Network Minnesota on Feb 18, 2017
Headline for Chemical Sensitivity Research
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Chemical Sensitivity Research

Exposures that harm people who report having chemical sensitivities have been documented in numerous studies to be toxic, biotoxic, or potentially immunologically stressful. Scientists have also documented how even small toxic exposures can cause significant harm. Nevertheless, very little academic attention has been dedicated to better understanding the plight of the growing number of individuals struggling to manage chemical sensitivities in a toxic world. This list focuses on sensitivity research.

Sampalli T, Berlasso E, Fox R, Petter M. J Multidiscip Healthc. 2009 Apr 7;2:53-9. "The study showed the importance of complementary interventions such as MBSR [mindfulness-based stress reduction] techniques in the reduction of psychological distress in women with chronic conditions."

A cross sectional study of self-reported chemical-related senstivity is associated with gene variants of drug-metabol...

10 Feb 2007, Environmental Health, Eckart Schnakenberg, Karl-Rainer Fabig, Martin Stanulla, Nils Strobl, Michael Lustig, Nathalie Fabig and Werner Schloot "The results from our study population show that individuals being slow acetylators and/or harbouring a homozygous GSTM1 and/or GSTT1 deletion reported chemical-related hypersensitivity more frequently."

Acute electroencephalographic effects from repeated olfactory administration of homeopathic remedies in individuals w...

Bell IR, Brooks AJ, Howerter A, Jackson N, Schwartz GE. Altern Ther Health Med. 2013 Jan-Feb;19(1):46-57. "CONCLUSION: The data suggest that CI, with an underlying susceptibility to time-dependent sensitization and oscillatory responses, could contribute to nonlinear dose-response patterns and inconsistent reproducibility of homeopathic clinical care and research."

Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2014 Sep;6(5):409-14. doi: 10.4168/aair.2014.6.5.409. Epub 2014 Mar 21. "The estimated prevalence of MCS was higher in allergic patients than non-allergic participants (19.7% and 11.3%, respectively, P=0.04). In the multivariate logistic regression analysis, ages of 30-39 (OR, 2.94; 95% CI, 1.25-6.95) and those of 40-49 (OR, 2.51; 95% CI, 1.02-6.21) were significantly related to MCS compared to those aged less than 30 years. Female sex (OR, 2.16; 95% CI, 1.11-4.18), experience of dwelling in a new house (OR, 2.05; 95% CI, 1.04-4.03), and atopic dermatitis (OR, 1.95; 95% CI, 1.04-3.69) were also significantly related to MCS. However, only age of 30-39 in the allergic group was significant in the stratified analysis."

Allergological and Toxicological Aspects in a Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Cohort

Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. P. Pigatto, Claudio Minoia, Anna Ronchi, Lucia Brambilla, Silvia M. Ferrucci, F. Spadari, Francesco Somalvico, Manuela Passoni, Gian Paolo Bombeccari, and Gianpaolo Guzzi. Received 28 February 2013; Accepted 11 May 2013. "Our observational data show an increased prevalence of allergy to metals as well as mild elevations of mercury levels in biological indicator media among patients who received a diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivity."

A national population study of the prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivity.

Caress SM, Steinemann AC. Arch Environ Health. 2004 Jun;59(6):300-5. "The authors found that 11.2% of Americans reported an unusual hypersensitivity to common chemical products such as perfume, fresh paint, pesticides, and other petrochemical-based substances, and 2.5% reported they had been medically diagnosed with MCS. Additionally, 31.1% of those sampled reported adverse reactions to fragranced products, and 17.6% experienced breathing difficulties and other health problems when exposed to air fresheners. Although chemical hypersensitivity was more common in women, it affected individuals in all demographic groups studied."

An elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine profile in multiple chemical sensitivity

Psychoneuroendocrinology; Volume 40, February 2014, Pages 140–150; DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.11.012. "MCS individuals displayed a distinct systemic immune mediator profile with increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and interleukin-2 and inverse regulation of Th2 associated cytokines interleukin-4 and interleukin-13 suggestive of low-grade systemic inflammation, along with a deviating Th2-associated cytokine response not involving IgE-mediated mechanisms."

Approaches to testing for food and chemical sensitivities.

Gordon BR. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2003. "Testing for food and chemical sensitivities usually becomes necessary as part of the evaluation of otolaryngology patients who have chronic illness. The more complex the patient, and the more recalcitrant the problem is to treatment, the more likely it is that allergies, and especially food or chemical sensitivities, are involved in the pathogenesis of the illness. Failure to consider all major allergen contacts, including foods and chemicals, can lead to inadequate therapy. Similarly, failure to understand total allergic and oxidant load and the effects of chemical toxicity can lead to inappropriate or ineffective treatment. Clinically, food allergies occur in two different types: immediate, anaphylactic, fixed reactions and delayed, chronic, cyclic reactions. Different test methods have been developed for the two types..."

Andrew Sullivan, Andrew Gibson, Brian Kevin Park, and Dean J Naisbitt. Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology. December 15, 2014. (doi:10.1517/17425255.2015.992780). "This article reviews recent advances in our understanding of drug hypersensitivity focusing specifically on the way in which drugs are displayed in MHC molecules. Most drugs associated with a high incidence of reactions have been shown to form protein-reactive metabolites. Hence, the relationship between drug metabolism and T-cell activation is discussed in detail."

Are metal-induced hypersensitivities in harbor seals associated with liver function?

Kakuschke A, Valentine-Thon E, Griesel S, Fonfara S, Siebert U, Prange A. Mar Pollut Bull. 2011 Aug;62(8):1891-4. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.05.034. Epub 2011 Jul 1. "Environmental exposure to metals is believed to affect marine mammal health adversely including immunosuppression or acute as well as chronic inflammatory processes leading to hypersensitivities or autoimmune diseases. Metal-specific hypersensitivities were found in several pinnipeds of the North Sea. However, hypersensitivity is a complex phenomenon whose characteristics are still not completely understood; in particular, effects on health are not well established. In the present study, we compared basic hematological and biochemical parameters of seals with and without metal-specific hypersensitivities. We found altered hematological parameters and liver enzyme patterns in seals with a metal-induced hypersensitivity, including a reduction in macrophages, an increase in lymphocytes, and elevated levels of lactate dehydrogenase. These findings support the suggestion of a chronic influence of metal pollutants on the health of marine mammals of the North Sea."

A review of a two-phase population study of multiple chemical sensitivities.

Caress SM, Steinemann AC. Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Sep;111(12):1490-7. "Further questioning of individuals with a hypersensitivity indicated that 13.5% (1.8% of the entire sample) reported losing their jobs because of their hypersensitivity. The second phase was a follow-up questioning of the respondents who initially reported hypersensitivity. In this phase, we found that individuals with hypersensitivity experience a variety of symptoms and triggers. A significant percentage (27.5%) reported that their hypersensitivity was initiated by an exposure to pesticides, whereas an equal percentage (27.5%) attributed it to solvents. Only 1.4% had a history of prior emotional problems, but 37.7% developed these problems after the physical symptoms emerged. This suggests that MCS has a physiologic and not a psychologic etiology."

Arsenic Exposure Perturbs the Gut Microbiome and Its Metabolic Profile in Mice: An Integrated Metagenomics and Metabo...

Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1307429. "The data clearly show that arsenic exposure induced a significant change in the gut microbiome composition of mice. In addition, these perturbed gut bacteria were strongly associated with changes of a number of gut microflora–related metabolites, indicating that arsenic exposure not only disturbs gut bacteria at the abundance level but also substantially alters the metabolomic profile of the gut microbiome, resulting in the disturbance of host metabolite homeostasis after arsenic exposure. These findings may provide mechanistic insights regarding perturbations of the gut microbiome as a new mechanism of environmental chemical–induced human disease. ... [A]ltered gut microbiota can also trigger systemic effects on host metabolism in remote tissues such as liver, brain, adipose, and muscle because the products of microbial metabolism could serve as signaling molecules or act in conjunction with the host on the metabolism of diverse chemicals to affect individual susceptibility to different diseases."

A short Chemical Sensitivity Scale for assessment of airway sensory hyperreactivity.

Nordin S, Millqvist E, Löwhagen O, Bende M. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2004 May;77(4):249-54. "The favorable metric properties of the CSS-SHR and its sensitivity/specificity suggests that it is useful for clinical diagnosis and epidemiological study of sensory hyperreactivity in combination with other diagnostic tools."

Associations of Filaggrin Gene Loss-of-Function Variants with Urinary Phthalate Metabolites and Testicular Function i...

Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1306720. "This study provides evidence that carriers of FLG loss-of-function alleles may have higher internal exposure to phthalates, possibly due to increased transepidermal absorption. FLG loss-of-function variants may indicate susceptible populations for which special attention to transepidermal absorption of chemicals and medication may be warranted." In an article about the study, Shanna Swan (a reproductive health scientist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who was not involved in the study) said. “This idea that a certain level of exposure to a chemical can mean something very different depending on your genetic makeup is quite new and important."

Asthma and chemical hypersensitivity: prevalence, etiology, and age of onset.

Caress SM, Steinemann AC. Toxicol Ind Health. 2009 Feb;25(1):71-8. "This study investigates asthma's national prevalence and potential overlap with chemical hypersensitivity. It also examines asthma's etiology, age of onset, and demographic characteristics. Data were collected from a geographically weighted random sample of the continental U.S. (1058 cases), in four seasonal cohorts (2005-2006). The study found that 12.9% of the sample report asthma, 11.6% report chemical hypersensitivity, and 31.4% of those with asthma report chemical hypersensitivity. Among asthmatics, 38% report irritation from scented products, 37.2% report health problems from air fresheners, and 13.6% report their asthma was caused by toxic exposure. Asthma cases affected each racial/ethic group in roughly the same proportion, with nearly 50% classified as childhood onset."

Asthma related to cleaning agents: a clinical insight

"These data indicate that a substantial proportion of workers who experience asthma symptoms related to cleaning materials show a pattern of bronchial reaction consistent with sensitiser-induced occupational asthma. The results also suggest that quaternary ammonium compounds are the principal cause of sensitiser-induced occupational asthma among cleaners."

Biochemical abnormalities in patients with multiple chemical sensitivities.

Occup Med. 1987 Oct-Dec.; Galland L. "Patients with MCS show numerous physiological and biochemical abnormalities and are generally sicker than a control group of allergic patients. Associated with MCS are mitral valve prolapse, hypothyroidism, autoimmune thyroiditis, specific abnormalities of amino acid and essential fatty acid metabolism, and diminished activity of ESOD and EGPx. Equally prevalent among MCS patients and controls are deficiencies of magnesium and Vitamin B6. Since patients with MCS feel sick almost all of the time, it is likely that some of these abnormalities contribute to their general level of ill health, if not to their sensitivities. It is also possible that these various abnormalities are caused by some unidentified fundamental metabolic or neuroendocrine disturbance that is common to states of hypersensitivity. A provocative finding is the high frequency with which impaired anti-oxidant levels were detected. Erythrocyte activity of SOD was low in 89% and EGPx was low in 48% of MCS patients. Furthermore, 41% showed impaired excretion of essential amino acids, despite a high protein diet, and leucocyte vitamin C was low in the 5 patients not taking vitamin C supplements. Anti-oxidant deficiences may certainly contribute to hypersensitivity to environmental pollutants and toxic chemicals. In fact, treatment with anti-oxidants, including selenium, vitamin C, copper, zinc, and sulfur-containing amino acids was associated with major clinical improvement in 14 (25%) of the patients in the MCS group and with limited relief of symptoms in another 10 (18%). In all patients in whom ESOD or EGPx were repeated, improvement in levels was observed following treatment."

Biological definition of multiple chemical sensitivity from redox state and cytokine profiling...

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2010 Nov 1;248(3):285-92. Epub 2010 Apr 27. De Luca C, Scordo MG, Cesareo E, Pastore S, Mariani S, Maiani G, Stancato A, Loreti B, Valacchi G, Lubrano C, Raskovic D, De Padova L, Genovesi G, Korkina LG. "Allele and genotype frequencies of CYPs, UGT, GSTM, GSTT, and GSTP were similar in the Italian MCS patients and in the control populations. The activities of erythrocyte catalase and GST were lower, whereas Gpx was higher than normal. Both reduced and oxidised glutathione were decreased, whereas nitrites/nitrates were increased in the MCS groups. The MCS fatty acid profile was shifted to saturated compartment and IFNgamma, IL-8, IL-10, MCP-1, PDGFbb, and VEGF were increased... Altered redox and cytokine patterns suggest inhibition of expression/activity of metabolizing and antioxidant enzymes in MCS. Metabolic parameters indicating accelerated lipid oxidation, increased nitric oxide production and glutathione depletion in combination with increased plasma inflammatory cytokines should be considered in biological definition and diagnosis of MCS."

Brain dysfunction in multiple chemical sensitivity.

J Neurol Sci. 2009 Dec 15;287(1-2):72-8. Epub 2009 Oct 3. Orriols R, Costa R, Cuberas G, Jacas C, Castell J, Sunyer J. "Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a chronic acquired disorder of unknown pathogenesis. The aim of this study was to ascertain whether MCS patients present brain single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and psychometric scale changes after a chemical challenge. This procedure was performed with chemical products at non-toxic concentrations in 8 patients diagnosed with MCS and in their healthy controls. In comparison to controls, cases presented basal brain SPECT hypoperfusion in small cortical areas of the right parietal and both temporal and fronto-orbital lobes. After chemical challenge, cases showed hypoperfusion in the olfactory, right and left hippocampus, right parahippocampus, right amygdala, right thalamus, right and left Rolandic and right temporal cortex regions(p<or=0.01). By contrast, controls showed hyperperfusion in the cingulus, right parahippocampus, left thalamus and some cortex regions (p<or=0.01). The clustered deactivation pattern in cases was stronger than in controls (p=0.012) and the clustered activation pattern in controls was higher than in cases (p=0.012). In comparison to controls, cases presented poorer quality of life and neurocognitive function at baseline, and neurocognitive worsening after chemical exposure. Chemical exposure caused neurocognitive impairment, and SPECT brain dysfunction particularly in odor-processing areas, thereby suggesting a neurogenic origin of MCS."

Case-control study of genotypes in multiple chemical sensitivity: CYP2D6, NAT1, NAT2, PON1, PON2 and MTHFR.

McKeown-Eyssen G, Baines C, Cole DE, Riley N, Tyndale RF, Marshall L, Jazmaji V.; Int J Epidemiol. 2004 Oct;33(5):971-8. Epub 2004 Jul 15. "CONCLUSIONS: A genetic predisposition for MCS may involve altered biotransformation of environmental chemicals. The CYP2D6 enzyme activates and inactivates toxins; the NAT2 enzyme bioactivates arylamines to protein-binding metabolites. A gene-gene interaction between CYP2D6 and NAT2 suggested that rapid metabolism for both enzymes may confer substantially elevated risk (OR = 18.7, P = 0.002). Our finding parallels others' observation of a link between PON1 heterozygosity and neurological symptoms in Gulf War syndrome. This first demonstration of genetic variation in drug-metabolizing enzymes in association with MCS requires replication. However, it suggests new research directions on genetically variable toxin pathways that might be important in MCS."

Case–control study of multiple chemical sensitivity, comparing haematology, biochemistry, vitamins [and VOC measures]

Occup Med (Lond) (2004) 54 (6): 408-418. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqh083. Cornelia Johanna Baines, Gail Elizabeth McKeown-Eyssen, Nicole Riley, David Edward C. Cole, Lynn Marshall, Barry Loescher and Vartouhi Jazmaji "Our findings are inconsistent with proposals that MCS is associated with vitamin deficiency or thyroid dysfunction, but the association of lower lymphocyte counts with an increased likelihood of MCS is consistent with theories of immune dysfunction in MCS. Whether avoidance of exposures or different metabolic pathways in cases explain the observed lower VOC levels or the higher chloroform levels should be investigated."

Chemical allergy in humans: Fresh perspectives

Ian Kimber, David A. Basketter, Jacob P. Thyssen, Rebecca J. Dearman, and John P. McFadden; Journal of Immunotoxicology; Posted online on September 25, 2013. (doi:10.3109/1547691X.2013.833661) "One of the most intriguing issues is the basis for the elicitation by chemical sensitizers of different forms of allergic reaction; that is, allergic contact dermatitis or sensitization of the respiratory tract associated with occupational asthma. Studies in rodents have revealed that differential forms of allergic sensitization to chemicals are, in large part at least, a function of the selective development of discrete functional sub-populations of CD4+ and CD8+ T-lymphocytes."

Chemical Sensitivity: Pathophysiology or Pathopsychology?

Clin Ther. 2013 May 1. pii: S0149-2918(13)00175-6. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2013.04.003. Genuis SJ. "BACKGROUND: Escalating numbers of people throughout the world are presenting to primary care physicians, allergists, and immunologists with myriad clinical symptoms after low-level exposure to assorted everyday chemicals such as smoke, perfumes, air fresheners, paints, glues, and other products. This clinical state is referred to by various diagnostic labels, including multiple chemical sensitivity disorder, environmental intolerance, chemical sensitivity (CS), and sensitivity-related illness, and has been the subject of much controversy within the health care community. ... RESULTS: The sensitization state of CS seems to be initiated by a significant toxic exposure, occurring as a 1-time event, or on surpassing a threshold of toxicity after toxicant accrual from repeated lower-level exposures. Once sensitized through a toxicant-induced loss of tolerance, individuals exposed to inciting triggers such as minute amounts of diverse everyday chemicals may experience various clinical and immune sequelae, sometimes involving lymphocyte, antibody, or cytokine responses. Precautionary avoidance of inciting triggers will prevent symptoms, and desensitization immunotherapy or immune suppression may improve symptoms in some cases. Sustained resolution of the CS state occurs after successful elimination of the accrued body burden of toxicants through natural mechanisms of toxicant bioelimination and/or interventions of clinical detoxification. Despite extensive clinical evidence to support the veracity of this clinical state, many members of the medical community are reluctant to accept this condition as a pathophysiologic disorder. CONCLUSIONS: The emerging problem of ubiquitous adverse toxicant exposures in modern society has resulted in escalating numbers of individuals developing a CS disorder. As usual in medical history, iconoclastic ideas and emerging evidence regarding novel disease mechanisms, such as the pathogenesis of CS, have been met with controversy, resistance, and sluggish knowledge translation."

[Chronic fatigue syndrome--cases in the Kanebo Memorial Hospital].

Ogawa R, Toyama S, Matsumoto H. Nihon Rinsho. 1992 Nov;50(11):2648-52. "In our hospital, 134 patients (28 male, 106 female, 10-82 years of age) were diagnosed as having chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Some patients had mild elevation of antibodies against Epstein-Barr Virus and immunologic abnormalities (natural killer cell dysfunction and high rates of skin reactivity to house dust, pollen, drugs and common food). In the patients with immunologic abnormalities, we found decreases in serum concentrations of arachidonic acid and dihomogamma-linolenic acid. A Kampo medicine, Ren-Shen-Yang-Rong-Tang was used in the management of 134 patients and 98 patients returned to work or school."

Comparing non-specific physical symptoms in environmentally sensitive patients: Prevalence, duration, functional stat...

"Even after adjustment for medical and psychiatric morbidity, environmentally sensitive individuals experience poorer health, increased illness behavior and more severe NSPS [non-specific physical symptoms]. The number and duration of self-reported NSPS are important components of symptom severity and are associated with characteristics similar to those of NSPS in primary care. The substantial overlap between the sensitive groups strengthens the notion that different types of sensitivities might be part of one, broader environmental illness."