If you're suffering from headaches, joint pains, exhaustion, bloating, wheezing, skin rashes, mood swings, hyperactivity, depression or a variety of other unexplained symptoms, the problem could be due to acute sensitivity to certain foods or harmful chemicals found in everyday products. These could all be symptoms of environmental illness but don't worry, we are here to help!
More and more people are becoming sensitive to everyday chemicals, foods and electromagnetic fields (such as WiFi), yet many sufferers are completely unaware that a simple change in lifestyle can dramatically improve their health. If your symptoms are due to a sensitivity reaction, simply replacing the problem food or product with an organic alternative can help you feel better again.
Are food sensitivities affecting your health?
Food sensitivity and intolerance is usually temporary. After avoiding the problem food for 6 weeks many people find they can eat small quantities again without symptoms. In medical terms, food intolerance is not the same as food allergy. A classic allergy involves the body producing lgE antibodies, which cause immediate and sometimes life-threatening reactions. In contrast, food intolerance does not usually involve lgE antibodies and symptoms can occur any time between the food being eaten and excreted (usually 3-4 days). lgE allergies are permanent and life-long; food intolerance is usually temporary. If you're not sure, ask your doctor to do a blood test to see if your reactions are due to an lgE allergy.
It is possible to be sensitive to any food, drink or ingredient. A lot of people find they actually crave the food they're sensitive to (possibly because it makes the body release "feel good" hormones). Common culprits include dairy, wheat, yeast, colourings and preservatives.
Because non-lgE sensitivity reactions can involve lots of different body systems there isn't a medical test to diagnose food intolerance. The easiest and cheapest way to find out what you're reacting to is to keep a Sensitivity Diary of symptoms and list everything you eat and drink. After a week, look back and see if there are any patterns. Alternatively, you could try an Elimination Diet or one of the many food intolerance tests available in health centres. YorkTest and others offer simple blood tests, while Vegatests, kinesiology, and dowsing use the body's natural energies to diagnose. No test has yet proved 100% accurate for all people but they can be a very good guide if used with common sense.
Once a suspect food is excluded you should notice an improvement of symptoms within 1-2 weeks. Retry the food again after 6 weeks and if there's no reaction you can happily eat it in moderation. In the meantime, replace the excluded food with an alternative to avoid malnutrition. There are plenty of wheat and dairy-free products in supermarkets and healthfood shops, or substitute different fruit and vegetables like cassava, yam or plantain available from Asian groceries.
Read more articles about Food Intolerance
Are you sensitive to chemicals?
There have been huge changes in our environment and lifestyles over the last 50 years, with new products to make our lives easier, safer and cleaner. It is possible to react to any synthetic or natural chemical in everyday items, the most common triggers being laundry detergents, perfume, shampoo, cosmetics and cleaning products.
Chemicals can enter the body through the skin, by breathing, eating or drinking and can affect virtually any body organ or system. This leads to a huge range of symptoms, from wheezing, headaches, moodswings or feeling sick, to ongoing problems like exhaustion, skin rash, depression, aches and pains.
The easiest way to diagnose chemical sensitivity is to keep a Sensitivity Diary of symptoms, activities and list what you eat or drink. After a couple of weeks look back and see if you can identify any recurring patterns. Alternatively, you could try one of the tests mentioned in the section above. Once you've worked out what's triggering your symptoms, avoiding the product should help you feel a lot better. There's no need to go without, simply replace the item with an alternative. "Fragrance-free" and "environmentally-friendly" brands are less likely to contain allergic triggers. We provide a full list of suppliers which is available for all Support Group members. Also see the leaflets on our Resources page.
Read more articles about Chemical Sensitivity
What about electrical sensitivity?
An increasing number of people are becoming sensitive to electromagnetic fields (EMFs), WiFi and mobile phone frequencies. Symptoms can manifest as headaches, blurred vision, tingling, numbness, nosebleeds, palpitations, joint/muscle pains, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and others. Once sensitised it is quite difficult to recover so it's a good idea to limit your daily exposure. Tips include :
- Unplug appliances when not in use.
- Sit at least 1m away from TV screens.
- Take a 5 minute break every hour when using a computer.
- Make sure you're not sitting or sleeping in an area affected by strong electrical fields or phone mast radiation - you can hire measuring equipment to test.
- Limit the time you hold your mobile phone next to your head - text or use the speakerphone option. Turn your phone off at night or redirect it to a landline.
- Consider a cabled internet connection instead of wireless.
- Various meters are available to measure Emf and microwave radiation, and shielding materials can be made or bought.
- For products and services that measurably reduce the amount of EMF exposure, check out ES Directory UK
Read more articles about: Electro-Sensitivity
What can be done?
First of all make sure your environment contains as few toxins as possible. Consider your diet, water and particularly the room you sleep in. Stop wearing perfume or aftershave and get rid of air-fresheners. Changing your laundry detergent and toiletries can make a significant difference. You can download a list of toiletries and cleaning products that are likely to be suitable form our leaflet: 'How to be Fragrance Free'.
Do you need to consider your environment and diet if you only have electro sensitivity? Yes. There is no miracle cure for either of these conditions and improving one aspect of your health will generally help you overall. Correcting leaky gut, and candida for example can make a big difference to both chemical and electro-senstivities.
At work or school ask if they will introduce a fragrance-free policy for staff/ pupils. Make sure the room is well ventilated and don't sit near the photocopier if you react to the fumes or electrical fields. Ideally open a window or if the air is too polluted invest in an air purifier. Support group members can request a helpsheet about air purifiers.Cabled internet will be less likely to exacerbate symptoms than Wi-Fi. Jobs that involve chemicals such as decorating, hairdressing or farming are likely to exacerbate symptoms and you will need to think carefully about how to limit this.
When you have removed the things you react to (as much as is practical) then start thinking about how to improve your immune and detoxification systems. An experienced practitioner can help you with this. Support group members can request a list of practitioners in the UK. There is no one method of treatment that suits everyone, as there are several different reasons you may have developed MCS. This means you have to learn about treatment options yourself and work with practitioners and qualified nutritional therapists to see what works for you. If illness or allergies run in your family then a DNA test may help to discover the root cause. You can then work with a practitioner to compensate for any issues with nutritional supplements. Probiotics are also worth investigating and there are certain supplements like magnesium, multi vitamins, B complexes and vitamin D3 that can help. When you have taken steps to repair your detoxification pathways it is time to start gently detoxifying.
When your body can't process toxins (xenobiotics) it will store them in your body until an occasion when it is able to process them. If you start detoxifying before you have repaired your pathways then you will simply loosen the toxins and they will circulate in your bloodstream until they can be stored again. This makes you feel awful, with headaches, flu symptoms, rashes etc. People with MCS often have a low tolerance for nutritional supplements and medicines for this reason. This applies to massage, saunas, and even a capsule of probiotics can wreak havoc if it is too much too soon (as it will kill off the 'bad' bacteria causing an increase in toxins). When we talk about 'gently detoxifying' we mean start any treatment at a low dose/ less time and see how you are. You cannot speed up this process. Your body will only be able to process and get rid of toxins at a certain rate.
There is much more information about the process of recovery in our helpsheets and you can read more about this here.