British Society for Ecological Medicine – www.ecomed.org.uk Report by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson
The BSEM’s autumn meeting was organised and chaired by Dr Apelles Econs who sketched out the situation of the ‘incurable patient’ familiar to many members. Most have compromised immune systems, a long list of foods they cannot tolerate, gut dysbiosis and nutritional deficiencies, markers of disordered cell chemistry and suffer from anxiety and/depression. Many also present with MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity) and EHS (electromagnetic hypersensitivity); it was the purpose of the meeting investigate these aspects.
Modern day electromagnetic
frequencies and human health
Dr Andrew Goldsworthy, a
biologist now retired after a distinguished career at Imperial College, described the huge increase in biologically active, man-made, non-ionising electromagnetic radiation (‘electrosmog’) over the last three decades – from very low frequency power lines and domestic wiring to high frequency microwaves used in Wifi and mobile phones.
While the human body seems able to cope with short bursts of such radiation (lightning flashes) prolonged exposure to electrosmog is now resulting in health problems ranging from electromagnetic hypersensitivity to loss of fertility, a greater incidence of allergy and a greater risk of cancer.
The mechanism of damage – an increase in cell membrane permeability (weakened and more porous cell walls) – has been known for 30 years.
The human body is highly conductive thanks to the high levels of salty fluids in the vascular and lymphatic systems. (Try tuning a radio to a weak station and then holding the aerial. The signal, via the
antenna of your body, will
Very simplistically, human cell activity consists of electrical signalling between positively and negatively charged ions or atoms, among the most important of which are calcium, potassium and magnesium. Cell health depends on the correct balance between these elements being maintained.
Low frequency electrical signals, especially when pulsed, disrupt these signalling pathways. Calcium and magnesium tend to be shaken loose from the cells, their place being taken by excess potassium.
The loss of calcium weakens the membranes or walls of the cells which are then more porous and liable to tear. The weakened membranes are also themselves more sensitive. Leakage of the contents of cells into the bloodstream can set up an inflammatory response and trigger false nerve impulses to the brain. These may account for many of the
apparently odd symptoms of EHS such as bad heat control, dizziness, tinnitus, nausea, heart arythmia, hyperactivity, pins and needles etc
Weakened cell structure also causes a weakening of the gut wall and the blood-brain barrier – a contributory cause of allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, hyperactivity, Crohn’s and coeliac disease etc, etc.
Dr Goldsworthy's article on cell membrane permeability
Dr Goldsworthy's article on low energy lighting
EHS, heavy metals and synergistic toxicities
Dr Joachim Mutter of the Institute for Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital, Frieburg detailed the massive rise in toxic metals in both the environment and in our bodies: over 1,000 fold more lead than 100 years ago (38% of US citizens have lead levels above the safety limits); 20 fold increase in environmental mercury.
Dental amalgam remains the main source of mercury pollution – it is estimated that there are between 1500 and 2000 tons of mercury in the teeth of EU citizens alone. However, mercury amalgam does not remain in the fillings, leaching out into the jaw and into collagen fibres; 3g of mercury is also released into the atmosphere at every cremation.
It only needs a concentration of 0.27µm of mercury to suppress lymphocyte activity in many organs and nerve cells, 0.18 µm concentration leads to oxidative stress, yet levels of up to 2.5µm have been found in the human body.
It is possible that mercury in amalgam fillings attracts electromagnetic rays. There appears to be a relationship
between high levels of mercury toxicity and electromagnetic sensitivity; Dr Mutter quoted several dramatic case studies.
Dr Mutter’s paper on the safety of dental amalgam.
His management protocol for heavy metal toxicity:
• Stopping any exposure to xenobiotics (chemicals not naturally found in living organisms) and electromagnetic fields
• Optimise nutrition
• Remove any metal implants, especially in teeth
• Detoxify the patient of
• Treat infections.
Psychological trauma – is it
relevant to MCS?
Professor David Peters,
professor of integrated medicine at the University of Westminster and a medical osteopath, described the significant proportion of his patients who suffered from MUPS (medically undiagnosed physical symptoms). This includes a wide range of chronic overlapping conditions such as MCS, IBS, allergy and other functional disorders. Many of these patients have underlying psychological problems (such as post-traumatic stress) that are inextricably bound in with their physical symptoms.
The limbic system is the part of the brain which deals with our emotional life and is heavily involved in the formation of memories. However, it is not part of the cortex or thinking brain, so we are not consciously aware of how it reacts.
An occurrence at any point from infancy onwards that is perceived by the limbic system to be traumatic can imprint itself deeply onto the system, thereby ramping up sensitivity to any other form of stress even if totally unconnected to the original trauma.
In this connection a trauma means any event or series of events that overwhelms the psyche. The event itself can be relatively trivial or insignificant (minor childhood surgery for example) – what it important is the patient’s subjective experience of the trauma.
Early attachment to its mother allows an infant to learn to deal with an alarming experience without ‘firing up’ the limbic/emotional system. However, infant insecurity may prevent the child learning that lesson so that, later in life, any threatening experience will cause a strong emotional limbic system reaction – which in turn affects all the bodily systems.
This sort of stress reaction is also significantly affected by the patient’s nutritional status: the poorer the status the higher the stress/reaction levels.
Stress reactions are also
affected by breathing patterns, overbreathing having very
negative effects on both stress and physical well being.
In some traumatic situations when neither flight nor fight reactions seem appropriate, the whole system may effectively freeze up – the patient becomes zombie-like and all functions appear to shut down. This is seen most often in post-traumatic stress disorder.
Measurable cell changes
connecting MCS and EHS
Dr John McLaren Howard (the founder and now retired
director of Biolab) reported his laboratory work on the cells of those with MCS.
Early research showed (see Dr Goldsworthy) that electromagnetic frequencies leached calcium from cells making cell walls soft and permeable.
Dr Howard used the new technique of fluorescent staining to monitor whether electrical
activity might affect the cells of chemically sensitive people.
• Cells from a sulphite-sensitive person. When exposed to either sulphite or to the electric frequencies to be found in an average room in an average town, these cells were flooded with calcium to the point that the cell would be seriously damaged.
• Cells from a formadelhyde- sensitive person. Exposure to both formaldehyde and electric frequencies again caused
calcium flooding of the cell.
• Cells from an electrically sensitive person, when exposed to electrical frequencies, did not get calcium flooding. This only occurred in those who were chemically sensitive.
Does this mean, Dr McLaren Howard asked, that multiple chemical sensitivities may damage cells, even when they are not in immediate contact with these chemicals?
In a normal system, neutrophils (white blood cells) kill off damaged cells by spraying them with superoxide, unless that person’s system makes
sufficient of the enzyme superoxide disputase to protect these cells. But those with multiple chemical sensitivity are known to be low in superoxide disputase, so might they suffer from higher damaged cell
Dr MacLaren Howard also described how he has been able to measure the temperature changes (cold extremities, very hot torso) reported by many chemically sensitive people. Using a chroma-colorimeter he was able to measure the colour changes in the skin (caused by the increase or decrease in blood circulation), thus validating their observations.
Potential implications of nano-technologies
Dr Qasim Chaudhry, principal research scientist at the Central Science Laboratory in York outlined the massive growth in the use of nanotechnology in medicine, health foods, personal care products and the food industry.
Although nano particles are very, very small particles of
common substances, their size affects their properties (a nano particle of carbon, for example, conducts electricity which normal size particles do not) and as yet very little is known about how they behave or react.
They are small enough to penetrate cellular barriers (to get through the cell wall into the cell) while their surface area is very much greater than a standard particle. (For example, the surface area of all the nano particles that make up a lump of sugar is far greater than the surface area of that lump of sugar.)
These two properties alone mean that nano technology can be used to deliver drugs directly into cells, to make nutrients more bioavailable because they are smaller and easier to
absorb, to include tiny amount of nutrients (fish oil in bread for instance) without it being
detectable and to deliver new tastes and textures because the increased surface area releases more flavour (eg saltiness) for the same total weight.
The downside is that, not unlike GM technology, nano technology is being rolled out commercially without any serious risk assessment.
• Given that the properties of nano particles are quite different from normal particles, do we know how they will behave
having penetrated a cell?
• Are nano particles metabolised in the gut? If not and if they can cross cell, gut and brain barriers, where may they get lodged in the body and with what consequences? This is particularly relevant with inorganic substances such as silver now being used in products such as wound dressings.
Albert Donnay from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Referral and Resources (www.mcsrr.org) in Baltimore discussed what he terms a multi-sensory sensitivity syndrome and its connection to carbon monoxide poisoning.
We hope that he will be enlarging on this for us in a future Foods Matter.
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First Published in 2009
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