Perhaps you’re reading this because a family member has tried to convince you that your bizarre reactions to environmental triggers are psychological. Perhaps you’re the person who feels crazy while everyone around you is frustrated and perplexed.
By far the best explanation of this illness is found in the book Why Isn’t My Brain Working? by Datis Kharrazian. In it he devotes an entire chapter to the subject of toxicity and the brain.
Environmental Illness and the Brain – Is Your Loved One Crazy?
Kharrazian attributes modern day inflammatory illnesses to some factors including diet, pesticides, chemicals in cleaning products, chemical emissions and much more. He mentions toxic mold in a previous book, but one can easily infer that mold is an issue considering the pathogenic nature of water damaged buildings.
Kharrazian asks the question you may be asking, “Why are most people living relatively ordinary lives with all of these exposures while others are not?” After all, everyone has some measure of internal toxicity.
The author calls it Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance or TILT. When a person suffers from TILT they aren’t necessarily sick from the toxicants; they are suffering from reacting to them.
“For people with loss of chemical tolerance, trivial exposures can trigger a long list of conditions, including asthma, migraines, depression, fibromyalgia, fatigue, Gulf War syndrome, brain fog, memory loss, incontinence, neurological dysfunction, rashes and so on. These people increasingly isolate themselves from the world and other people. They can’t tolerate many indoor places, other people’s scented body products, or clothes laundered in scented detergents. Even the smell of dryer sheets coming from a neighbor’s dryer vent during a walk makes them sick. It’s common for them to feel increasingly angry at other people and understandably so. When a scented product triggers a migraine, incontinence or symptoms of multiple sclerosis, the person wearing it can seem cruel and selfish.”
What is the cause for this extreme level of reactivity?
The author lists four possible causes:
- Poor glutathione activity (everyday levels of a compound can only trigger an immune problem if glutathione is depleted)
- Breakdown of immune barriers (lungs, gut, and blood-brain barrier)
- Poor T-cell function (immune cells that regulate and balance the immune system)
- Chronic inflammation (symptoms include bloating, skin rashes or eruptions, joint pain, brain fog, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, chronic fatigue and autoimmune flare-ups)
The author notes that TILT develops in two stages. The first phase is the breakdown of the body’s natural tolerance. This may occur over a long or short period. The second stage is when an ordinary exposure suddenly triggers an immune response.
Kharrazian lists several case studies:
- A woman has mild sensitivities and then stays with a family member who uses heavily scented commercial laundry products. Because the apartment is small, and the air quite concentrated, the woman experiences debilitating vertigo.
- A woman works as a florist, regularly mixing buckets of pesticides with bare hands. She develops severe lupus as a result.
- A woman helps her parents clean with a variety of chemical solutions and then develops symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.
The author goes on to suggest ways to calm the inflammation, improve detox pathways and boost glutathione levels. I can’t say enough about this resource!
If you’ve read this far you are obviously a concerned family member (or suffering yourself.) Eight years ago I was living an ordinary life. I ate whatever I wanted and lived in a house full of chemicals. I looked down on those who suffered ill health. I judged them harshly believing all they needed to do was think positively and move on.
My outlook collapsed when I suffered a serious toxic mold exposure in 2008. After leaving the home, I, along with the ten others in my family, developed a severe chemical intolerance. I couldn’t walk down the laundry aisle at Target without immediate fatigue. My kids got severe nosebleeds.
The key to my recovery has been a much-needed break from constant exposures. If these toxicants were causing an inflammatory immune response, it made sense to stop fighting it and let my body heal without the assault.
Did I eventually need to alter my mindset? Absolutely. I had to believe my body could turn around. But I wouldn’t trade my time of “rest”. During that time, I embraced a proactive approach to my chronic fatigue, mood disturbance and liver malfunction – a regimen I still practice today.
Thankfully I can now walk down the laundry aisle.
Wondering how you can help despite feeling powerless?
- Educate yourself on the issue of TILT. Read chapter 20 in Why Isn’t My Brain Working? The more you learn, the more you can validate and encourage your loved one.
- Become a cheerleader. Give your loved one the freedom to feel this sick. When we left our home in 2008, I had one person cheering me on – my mother. Every time we talked she said “You’re doing so well, Andrea.” Her reassurance was all I needed. Losing her eight months after we left was one of my greatest losses in this journey.
- Honor your loved one’s request. If they need you to change your clothes to be around them, tell them it’s OK. If they ask you to refrain from wearing perfume, oblige them. I know it’s hard, but it’s one of the most loving things you can do.
Our culture has yet to embrace the connection between environmental toxicity and health, but the effects are real. Awareness is growing. Remember when people refused to believe the connection between germs and infection because germs are invisible? One day the world will come to understand that the hidden toxins lurking in artificially scented products, pesticides, water damaged buildings and chemically-altered foods have the potential to degrade a person’s health. Until then, why not come alongside those who are suffering?
Multiple Chemical Sensitivities: Addendum to Biologic Markers in Immunotoxicology
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This is such a great article. Thanks so much for sharing!
Holly LeGros says
So true Andrea & thank you. I’ve been there too! I lost my Mom just 2 mos before I was forced to leave my precious home of 18 yrs to save my life & health. Because of proliferating mold from water infiltration in my over-weatherized home, I ended up inhaling mold mycotoxins, particulates and voc’s during a bedroom bath remodel which released those toxins into my airspace. I should have realized how dangerous it was for me when the tile worker quit early both times, racing off to the ER for serious lung troubles. When I left that day in December 96, it was 8 yrs after the “unfortunate weatherization” event that sealed in the many toxic molds. It is impossible for others to believe or understand fully this invisible nightmare w/o their own personal experience to draw from. Thank you for all that you do to support our journeys:))
Andrea Fabry says
Thanks for taking the time to share a bit of your journey, Holly. It always helps others. Thanks for the encouragement too!
Brandon Adams says
Any suggestions or experience dealing with reactions to car air conditioners? I have mild MCS, nothing too bad. And I have CIRS. We bought a new van and I’m getting a headache from the AC.
We put a Moso bag in the car and I’m wearing a Vogmask for now, which helps. I’m not sure if it’s from being new, or just being AC.
Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks!
Andrea Fabry says
It sounds like it may be the newness as much as the air conditioner. Can you let it off gas outside with fans blowing through on a nice day? As much ventilation as you can give it will help. Also try wiping down with tea tree oil or an essential oil that you like. White vinegar can help as well. I think it will improve over time – but would be curious to know what you find as you go along.
Debra A. Whitemaine says
I developed severe persistent asthma after being exposed to mold during remodeling at my job in June 2008. I had to leave in October 2008 because I was so ill especially at work. Over the next 5 1/2 years I became reactive to: foods, medications, fragrances, chemicals, cleaners, fabrics, clothing dyes, latex, plastics, woods, jewelry, metals, etc. My husband has been my biggest supporter thru everything. My Dad was learning and always caring even though he didn’t quite understand. He finally looked at me one day and he got it. Unfortunately he passed suddenly about 1 week later. I was finally diagnosed with a latex allergy in 2012 and CIRS in 2013. I then learned about TILT. Thank you for sharing your story.
Andrea Fabry says
I’m so sorry to hear, Debra. I’m glad you continue to figure all of this out. It’s not an easy road is it?
Im extremely ill with chemical sensitivity and now electricity can you tell me how i can get better please?
Andrea Fabry says
I would look at this article, Candy. It offers suggestions for both the chemical and electrical sensitivity. Of course, they really do go hand-in-hand.
I really dislike the name tilt.