Psychogenic theories about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) have been discredited (see Martin Pall’s section on “Psychogenic Claims” on this page: http://www.thetenthparadigm.org/mcs09.htm). People with MCS have worked hard to convince people ranging from family members to government officials that MCS is not an anxiety problem. So it’s strange and disconcerting to see enthusiasm for the “explanations” of MCS and treatment programmes of two people who appear to believe that MCS is an anxiety problem.
Ashok Gupta (Gupta Amygdala Retraining™) says,
“In summary, MCS is a conditioned response of the brain to a chemical it thinks is dangerous. …
Why do some people develop MCS, and others who are exposed to the same chemical, do not? It is because it is the “brain’s programming”, its “software program” if you like, which gets altered during a traumatic event. After that initial sensitising event, that person’s brain will respond in a different way.
Furthermore, it is likely that the more prone someone is to a hyper-aroused amygdala (e.g. history of anxiety, panic disorder etc), the more prone they are to developing MCS because the amygdala is more sensitive to new threats.” (http://www.guptaprogramme.com/html/explainMCS.asp)
(An alternative answer to his question, based on scientific evidence, is that genetic differences in the way chemicals are metabolised make some people more susceptible to MCS. Six genes have been implicated so far. See http://www.thetenthparadigm.org/mcs09.htm for more information about this. Also note that people can develop MCS without a “traumatic event”.)
Annie Hopper (Dynamic Neural Retraining SystemTM) said in an interview, “With MCS, we develop a conditioned abnormal fear response to chemicals due to impaired limbic system function resulting from the repetitive brain trauma pattern. Fear stimulates the amygdala, triggering the fight or flight response.” (http://planetthrive.com/2009/10/rewiring-the-chemically-sensitive-brain/)
On her website she says:
“The most common primary characteristic of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is an abnormal and heightened ability to detect chemicals in the environment especially through sense of smell and taste.
Detection is accompanied by a host of physical reactions, an immediate noxious stimulus response and severe aversion to chemicals. …” (http://dnrsystem.com/mcs.html)
(Note that people with MCS react to chemicals, not to the smell of chemicals. They react to them whether they can detect them or not. Also, people with MCS don’t necessarily have a “severe aversion to chemicals”, same as people who are allergic to cats don’t necessarily have a severe aversion to cats.)
You might be wondering why Gupta and Hopper think MCS involves fear and anxiety. The following quotes may provide the answer.
Annie Hopper wrote of her own MCS:
“Worry was the thought of the morning, afternoon and evening. Sometimes I would just sit back and observe my thoughts and it literally seemed like an unending stream of worries. This was highly disturbing for me as I thought I already had the tools to stop this process. Yet nothing I tried was able to prevent it.” (x)
Ashok Gupta said in an interview:
“I could feel that my body was full of adrenaline or whatever you want to call it – that I was on edge. I was sitting at home I could feel that some response was going on in my body – some stress response – and when I was speaking to somebody or put into a mildly stressful environment I could feel my heart start pumping but it wasn’t anxiety per se – the feeling was distinct to anxiety. I’d always had some anxiety in my life but nothing had been comparable to this complete exhaustion. There was something unique happening. So I started looking into the stress response and anxiety disorders.
I looked into the latest research on what causes severe anxiety – the answer was the amygdala. I read Joseph Ledoux’s work and said to myself you know this stuff is exactly what’s going on in my body and I looked at all the CFS literature and put all that together as well and said there is a really obvious mechanism.” (http://www.ei-resource.org/columns/phoenix-rising/ashok-gupta-amygdala-retraining-techniques/)
So is their experience of anxiety typical of people with MCS?
Far from it. Caress and Steinemann did a prevalance study of MCS in Atlanta, Georgia and then asked the people with MCS further questions, including some about mental illness. They reported that:
“Only 1.4% (n = 1) of the respondents reported experiencing depression, anxiety, or other emotional problems before the onset of their symptoms. An additional 5.8% (n = 4) replied that they did not know if they had these emotional symptoms or not before they developed their hypersensitivity. Only 4.3% (n = 3) of the respondents had ever taken any medication for emotional problems before the onset of their chemical hypersensitivity symptoms. In contrast, 37.7% (n = 26) of the respondents said that they experienced depression, anxiety, or other emotional problems after they developed their hypersensitivity, and 27.5% (n = 19) had taken some medication for these emotional problems after the emergence of their condition.” (Caress SM, Steinemann AC 2003. A Review of a Two-Phase Population Study of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. Environ Health Perspect 111:1490-1497. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.5940)
Anxiety and panic attacks can cause a range of symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, fatigue, nausea, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, palpitations and shortness of breath. These symptoms could be confused with MCS symptoms. Of course, it’s possible to have both MCS and anxiety, or to recover (or partially recover) from MCS but have continuing anxiety.
The obvious question is: are the Gupta and Hopper programmes treating anxiety rather than MCS?