A conference was held recently at the Society of Chemical Industry, London, to explore the implications of chemical sensitivity for the chemicals industry.
The aim of the conference was seemingly to consider whether the apparent toxicological problems reported by some individuals are really a problem for the chemicals industry or more a matter for psychiatrists.
The existence of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) - or 'idiopathic environmental illness', as it is increasingly being called - was, nevertheless, not questioned and there was acknowledgment that the condition can make some people very ill. However, the consensus at this conference appears to have been that, in the absence of evidence to prove what causes MCS, or tests to ascertain its presence and quantify its effects scientifically, there is currently nothing that can be done to help sufferers.
Speakers at the conference placed clear emphasis on the psychological aspects of chemical exposures and, in particular, on the link with 'sensory conversion disorder' - previously known as hysteria - in which a patient complains of symptoms, but doctors can't find anything medically wrong with them.
Interestingly, three weeks after this conference, the American Academy of Neurology released details of new Canadian research showing evidence of brain dysfunction in women with sensory conversion disorder/hysteria.
The study involved three women with the disorder who complained of numbness in their left hand or foot. MRI scans were used to study how the brains of these patients responded when their numb body parts were stimulated.
In all three cases, stimulation of the numb hand was not registered by the region of the brain which routinely responds to touch. However, this part of the brain did respond when researchers also stimulated the hand or foot which had normal feeling. (Source: Neurology, December 12, 2006.
If further studies confirm a biological basis for hysteria, it will no longer be possible to use a suggested link between MCS and hysteria as a way of validating the notion that MCS is 'imaginary'.
Click here for more research on chemical sensitivity
First Published in April 2007
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