Do you have a chemical intolerance? Study finds condition to be a common occurrence

Monday, July 23, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: chemical intolerance, sensitivity, links

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(NaturalNews) Do you have a chemical intolerance or know someone who does? You may be surprised to know that such intolerances are more common than you thought.

In fact, a new study shows, a good amount of low-income patients in primary care could be sensitive to chemicals in perfumes, household cleaners and many other everyday products.

The small study, conducted at a pair of Texas family medicine practices, reportedly screened patients for what it termed "chemical intolerance," or for what is more formally known as multiple chemical sensitivity.

The diagnosis has proved to be somewhat controversial, and as in other types of research, there is no consensus on what causes the sensitivities. There is also no agreement on whether to even call the phenomenon a disorder, because at this point, scientists aren't sure that it is.

Still, there's a standard screening questionnaire which has been utilized in studies and the practices of some physicians, Reuters reported. It asks whether people have felt sick being around various smells and chemicals such as cleaning products, gasoline, insecticides, paint and perfumes. It also asks the person to rate the symptoms.

Using the questionnaire, researchers discovered that 20 percent of 400 patients examined met the chemical intolerance criteria.

"Chemical intolerance occurs in one of five primary care patients yet is rarely diagnosed by busy practitioners," the study concluded. "Symptoms may resolve or improve with the avoidance of salient chemical, dietary (including caffeine and alcohol), and drug triggers."

Some links between mental health problems and chemical intolerance

Most similar studies focused on higher-income whites; this study, however, featured primarily Hispanic patients who were lower-income.

Those findings, says lead researcher Dr. David A. Katerndahl, of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, give researchers an idea about the prevalence of such symptoms on an understudied group.

Katerndahl theorized that Americans who earn less could be more likely to have a chemical intolerance since they are more likely to have jobs that regularly expose them to a range of chemicals.

In an interview, he acknowledged that a diagnosis of chemical intolerance, by itself, can be controversial.

"Some doctors will never believe it exists," he told Reuters. Nevertheless, he added, a growing number of primary care physicians are beginning to accept it.

Moreover, his study's new findings seem to confirm what many doctors have come to believe - that chemical intolerance goes hand-in-hand with mental disorders.

The study found that of 81 patients with a measured chemical intolerance, an overwhelming majority of them - 85 percent - said they had experienced symptoms of depression within the past month.

More than three-quarters of them - 78 percent - demonstrated symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

Those figures compared with 33 percent and 21 percent of patients, respectively, who did not have chemical intolerances.

Katerndahl pointed out; however, that those results don't necessarily mean mental health problems caused the sensitivities to chemicals.

"We don't know why this association exists," he said.

Avoid the sensitive substances - if you can

It could be that some people just have an underlying propensity for mental health disorders and chemical intolerances. Or, he said, it could be that some patients become depressed or anxious because of chemical intolerance symptoms, which can include dizziness, breathing problems, upset stomach or dizziness.

One other finding in the study: Most who were found to have a chemical intolerance didn't know it. Only about 25 percent of the 81 people screened positive for chemical sensitivities had been previously diagnosed with it.

That means the problem "often goes unrecognized," the researchers said in their report, which was published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

The best treatment - so far - seems to be avoidance.

"If you can figure out if you're sensitive to certain chemicals, then you can try to engineer your life to avoid them," Katerndahl said.

Another potential "cure" would be to see an allergist, he added.


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