Celebrating a fallen MCS queen
Environmental illness can be challenging in a way that is hard for others to relate to. Especially when one becomes reactive to the ubiquitous chemicals in modern life, there is a terrifying loss of safe spaces, over and over. This is traumatizing. When people are ignorant enough to discredit your experience as “psychosomatic,” a second trauma is experienced.
For example, when you Google “MCS” or “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity”, Google will suggest other questions in the “People Also Ask…” section, such as “Is MCS real?” and “Is MCS a mental illness?”
Please. I am having none of this.
Today I feel like commemorating the life of my friend Candace Covington, whose 44th birthday would have been this week. An illness started her chemical sensitivity when she was just in her 20s. Because the illness is so multi-factorial and complex, there is a lot of misunderstanding. It is way too easily dismissed as psychosomatic (especially in women) by people who don’t understand the physiology. So here’s a little primer on multiple chemical sensitivity.
- It is recognized as a “newly emerging disease” in Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Japan-— all countries that provide all their citizens with health insurance.
- Chemical sensitivity, as in headaches in response to fumes or fragrances, is extremely common all over the world. Studies surveying citizens in Sweden, Australia and Korea found that between 7.5% and 33% of respondents self-reporting a “general odor intolerance.”
- Seriously, is it really that hard to imagine? There are now 80,000 new chemicals in our environment (USA) since World War 2 (since when they repurposed chemicals and munitions from the war sector to the agricultural sector.)
- This study found 287 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of infants. Also, look how old that study is! 2005! Why oh why is there not more recent data on this?! What is it now?
- “In the United States, a national prevalence of 12.8% medically diagnosed MCS, 25.9% self-reported chemical sensitivity, and 27.5% either or both, was assessed by this survey (See Table1). Compared with previous studies,4,5 the prevalence of diagnosed MCS has increased over three times (2.5%, 3.9% to 12.8%) and self-reported chemical sensitivity has increased over two times (11.1%, 11.6% to 25.9%) in a little over 10 years.” It’s COMMON! And you will see more and more of it.
- It is very likely that the health problems you and your loved ones already have are informed on some immeasurable level by this ubiquity of chemicals.
- There, but for the grace of God, go you.
- It is worse in the United States than in other industrialized countries because of our system of putting profits over people. Take in this entire report, especially page 6.
- In 2019, the World Health Organization listed the Ten Threats to Global Health, listing Air pollution as #1 on the list, saying “Nine out of ten people breathe polluted air every day. In 2019, air pollution is considered by WHO as the greatest environmental risk to health.”
- Take a moment to read this Atlantic article about uncovering the root cause of 70 bald eagles dying in Arkansas in 1996. It took them 25 years (an entire human generation) to uncover the cause of the deaths. Spoiler: It was a novel biotoxin created by a collaboration between a blue-green algae, an invasive water plant and the chemical they used to try to kill it. Note that complexity.
- Now consider for a moment the approximately 1% of the worldwide population, 17 to 24 million people, who suffer from ME/CFS, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome . Millions of people just spent those 25 years in bed while scientists solved that one mystery about the bald eagles. Our current scientific paradigm is not up to the task of understanding the staggering complexity of how environmental destabilization shows up as human illness, much less how to fix it.
Now to the pathophysiology of what happens inside a body that has gotten sensitized to all these chemicals:
- It often is associated with Mast Cell Activation, which is a physical degranulation of cells that exist at the intersection of your nervous system and your immune system. During this process, they release histamines and up to 100 other cytokines. (When this happens to me, I feel an inner vibration and then feel as though I have just pounded a pitcher of espresso.)
- Here is the awesome list of possible symptoms:
- Chronic pain
- Fast heart beat
- Low blood pressure
- Abdominal pain
- An illness, injury or massive mold exposure can kick this off. (Mold kicked it off in my body.) It is extremely difficult to “turn off,” thereby requiring a lifestyle of avoidance of the substances that cause these reactions. When I say “requiring,” I mean it is totally mandatory and non-negotiable if one wants to stay alive and feel ok.
- Where can you go to avoid 80,000 chemicals? The wilderness is literally the only solution to truly, fully recover. (It DOES work. You heal. Then you manage the reactivity.) Otherwise there are lots of meds and stopgaps. You have to go back in time to the dwindling places that have not yet been polluted. (The wildfires in the west are being fought with flame retardants, one of the worst possible chemicals for chemically and mold-sensitive people, thereby further limiting our options.)
- MCS absolutely has a genetic/epigenetic underpinning, being informed in real time by a person’s genetic ability to clear toxins through various pathways (sulfation, methylation, glucaronidation) using genes such as MTHFR, CYP450, SOD, GST, PON and NOS. “Metabolic parameters indicating accelerated lipid oxidation, increased nitric oxide production and glutathione depletion in combination with increased plasma inflammatory cytokines should be considered in biological definition and diagnosis of MCS.”
- We are just now getting to an era of being able to measure real-time epigenetic responses to environment with Dr Shoemaker’s GENIE test. It’s not perfect but it’s a breakthrough. This isn’t looking at your predispositions, it’s revealing which genes are activated and expressing in that moment.
- And there’s your sixth chromosome, which holds a whole bunch of human leukocyte antigen factors that govern your innate and adaptive immune responses.
- Your Innate (old, non specific) and Adaptive (new, specific) immune systems can slip away from each other and stop communicating well. Th1 dominant and your innate immune system flares and tends towards autoimmunity. Th2 dominant and your allergies go haywire. Didn’t know that could happen? It does. How do you fix that?
- If someone has a history of trauma on top of these genetic vulnerabilities, (and seriously, who doesn’t?) the autonomic nervous system can become permanently altered. This means the vagus nerve creates disrupted cell signaling that can impair the parasympathetic function, making it almost impossible to calm down or sleep deeply. Ever. Yes, it’s fucking psychological when you can’t find a safe place anywhere. But it is also physiological.
- “Approximately 47 percent of the U.S. population, 150 million Americans, suffered from at least one chronic disease, as of 2014. Almost 30 million Americans are living with five or more chronic diseases.” Let’s look at the fastest growing one:
- After 30+ years of Alzheimer’s research, Dr. Dale Bredesen has concluded that no less than 50% of people (probably much more– my opinion) who struggle with impaired cognition are dealing with a toxic component (5 elements: infections, organic and inorganic chemicals, heavy metals, mold toxins and viruses.) Yes, it is reversible, but you need to understand it before you can address it.
- The Alzheimer’s Association is aware of the scope of the problem (Check out page 11 of this report.) But the enormous sums that have been spent on 400 failed drug trials tell me they still don’t understand the etiology. Hmm, and what’s going on at the FDA with Biogen’s drug?
- If you are getting my drift, there were over 47 million people worldwide in 2015 suffering from dementia and that is projected to rise to 76 million in 2030 and 145 million in 2050. (pg.13) Half of those people have a toxic component (even though 9 out of 10 are breathing polluted air?) And who thinks MCS is psychosomatic? Who’s crazy?
This is a public service announcement in honor of Candace’s life because she did not get the help and understanding that she could have had because her illness is a “new paradigm” illness. It is an illness of the future (which we are already in, but which the current medical paradigm has not caught up to.)
Candace was living on the edge of survival, sleeping in her truck, for more than 2 decades. Some massive contaminations removed from her the only safe spaces that she had fought so hard to keep. And she gave up. I don’t blame her one bit. I am sincerely happy that she is free.
She is worth honoring because she let this incredibly absurd, dystopian situation soften her. She became kinder, more generous. She worked hard and created her own business, the Creosote Bush Salve company. She lived in Texas and got no public assistance. She felt guilty for being sick.
I don’t feel guilty.
I feel determined. (Can you tell?) I feel like calling this what it is. If you are sick with a complex chronic illness, I see you. You need a clean, safe place to heal and become educated on how this all came to pass. You deserve dignity and safety and truth. You can use this experience to heal and grow.
Rachel Carson was right.
Happy Birthday Candace. Enjoy those wings, darlin!