As a last resort, his mother took the advice of an alternative practitioner and changed her laundry detergent from an ordinary brand to an environ-mentally friendly one, without per-fumes. According to Terri Perry, the British reflexologist who treated him, the change was extraordinary. "He stopped having the panic attacks immediately and became a model pupil at school," she says.
Not long ago, medicine argued that allergies, particularly to chemicals, were imaginary. But now we're begin-ning to understand that allergiescan cause a range of psychiatric problems-from mood swings, anxiety and panic attacks to depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) -and the common triggers are under your kitchen sink.
Most of Perry's patients are victims of chemical perfumes from air fresh-eners, laundry detergents, fabric con-ditioners, candles, incense, personal toiletries, and household cleaners such as bleach, cream cleaners and other cleaning materials. Of her latest 35 clients, all but two were sensitive to the scents used in these products.
In her experience, chemical sensi-tivity can even manifest as nail-biting, grief, claustrophobia, bipolar disorder, phobias and suicidal tendencies.
Perry's case-book file is backed up by science. Studies have found that patients with chemical sensitivity are more likely to have psychiatric disorders (Environ Health Perspect, 1997; 105 Suppl 2: 409-15), that there's a robust association between environmental intolerances and lifelong psychiatric disorders (Occup Med, 2000; 15: 557-70), and that multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is linked with physical and psychiatric symptoms, including lightheadedness, tremor and panic disorders (Environ Health Perspect, 2002; 110 [Suppl 4]: 669-71).
Studies of chemically sensitive people find that it often lies behind attention-deficit/hyperactivity disord-er (ADHD) in younger children (Environ Health Perspect, 1997; 105 Suppl 2: 417-36).
MCS is also linked to depression.
Researchers have measured the odour detection thresholds for a component of rose oil and a common solvent in 18 people with MCS, and compared their responses to matched non-MCS controls. The MCS sufferers scored significantly higher on a test that measured states of depression (Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 1988; 114: 1422-27).
Chemical sensitivity may also run in families. Nearly a third of patients with MCS reported that their relatives also had it and were more likely than the relatives of controls to have a range of psychiatric problems, too (Toxicol Ind Health, 1999; 15: 410-4).
A 1992 review of all MCS research suggested that repeated exposure to chemicals can cause 'kindling' or sensitization of the central nervous system. This amplifies the reaction to even low levels of inhaled chemicals and can cause psychiatric dysfunction (Biol Psychiatry, 1992; 32: 218-42).
Perry, a trained Thought Field Therapist, the energy psychology created by psychologist Roger Calla-han, routinely follows Callahan's protocol when testing heart-rate variability (HRV), which measures how the autonomic system functions in the presence of chemical agents. Callahan considered HRV an excellent predictor of illness and sensitivity after researchers found an association between HRV and the risk of sudden death (Am J Cardiol, 2002; 90: 24-8).
Perry suspects a chemical problem when she sees an elevated HRV in the presence of household chemicals. "Nine out of 10 times it is likely to be their pungent, dyed laundry detergent or plug-in air fresheners in the home or car," she says.
So, whether or not you have depression or any strange phobias, it makes sense to clear out any coloured and perfumed cleansers, washing products and toiletries, and replace them with environmentally friendly products with no added artificial colours or scents.
Perry's case file
- A 69-year-old woman, who was highly nervous, too frightened to cross the road on her own and subject to obsessive behaviour, had been a victim of sexual abuse at age 9. Perry found that her situation was exacerbated by her washing powder, washing-up liquid, perfume, lipstick and bread. By removing these products from her environment, she became more relaxed and was able to forget the trauma that had affected her for 60 years.
- A 37-year-old teacher and mother had periodic panic attacks at the thought of going out or flying, with a fear of vomiting. Even waiting in line at the supermarket could bring on an attack. Having switched her laundry detergent, dishwasher tablets, and ordinary toothpaste and soap for eco-friendly laundry and personal products, she no longer has panic attacks.
- A 69-year-old man had major anxiety symptoms, panic attacks, and fear and anxiety about eating out. Perry found that he used ordinary laundry detergent and daily bleach (with his bare hands).
Terri Perry: www.mindbalance.co.uk