healing chemical sensitivities
by Debra Lynn Dadd
I am not a medical doctor. This is not medical advice. This is simply a report of what I have observed works to recover from multiple chemical sensitivities. I offer it to you as one who has recovered from this illness, for your information only, for you to do with as you please. You are responsible for any result that occurs from applying this information to your own body.
When recovering from multiple chemical sensitivities, the most important thing to keep in mind is this:
The body is designed for health. Every cell and system in the body is continually making adjustments to keep the body in optimum condition.
Toxic chemicals destroy specific cells in our bodies. Many of them attack the immune system, which leads to chemical sensitivity. When we stop bombarding our bodies with chemicals, the body begins to heal itself.
We can also support the body in its healing and detoxification with nutritious food, clean water, regular exercise, and therapies that contribute to body balance and regeneration.
The body WILL heal itself. It knows how to do that. We just need to allow it to do what comes naturally.
1. LIVE IN A NONTOXIC HOME
To rid your home of ALL toxic chemicals is the most important step you can take. Without this, the other aspects of healing will have little effect. To heal, you MUST stop allowing toxic chemicals to destroy your body.
My book Home Safe Home gives a comprehensive overview of where the toxic chemicals are hiding in your home, and recommendations for nontoxic solutions. Debra’s List–my online directory of nontoxic, natural, and earthwise products–shows where you can purchase safe products on the internet.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a nontoxic home environment. Do whatever you can do step-by-step, but keep going until you have identified ALL the toxic exposures and eliminated them.
I’ve observed many people, including myself, who did not fully heal until they removed those last few toxic products that they thought were so small it wouldn’t make any difference. For me, it was the lipstick that was the exactly perfect shade that had taken years to find.
When you are full recovered, you can allow more exposures to chemicals that are slightly toxic, if you want to. But while you are healing, you need to reduce your chemical exposure completely.
This needn’t be deprivation. There are so many nontoxic and natural products available now that you may find, as I did, that your life can be even more pleasant and pleasing using nontoxic products. You will certainly be happier because you are feeling better.
2. EAT NOURISHING, ORGANICALLY-GROWN FOOD
In order for your body to heal, it needs nourishment. You need to eat enough of a variety of real, whole, fresh foods for your body to get the proteins, fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it requires for health.
It is important to get these foods from real, whole, fresh foods and not from dietary supplements. Most supplements are made from nutrients that are isolated from their natural context, so you never get all the micronutrients that are supplied by whole foods. If you want to take supplements, choose whole food supplements. These at least are made from whole foods, but they are still processed.
I’m not against taking supplements. I am of the belief that we can get all the nutrients we need from food, but there are situations–such as illness–when the body needs extra support. If you do want to take supplements, work with a knowledgeable advisor to find the exact supplements you need. Don’t just take a lot of supplements without finding out what your body needs. And take the purest supplements you can find and afford. Many supplements contain additives you will probably react to.
Eat as much organically-grown food you can find and afford. Have it delivered to your home from an online source if necessary. Conventional supermarket food contains residues of toxic pesticides that can interfere with your healing. The more organically grown food you can eat, the faster you will heal.
Create meals you enjoy by starting with fresh raw vegetables. Then add some protein and then a smaller amount of whole food complex carbohydrate, such as potatoes with the skin on or whole grains. Include a small amount of good fat. Eat a small amount of fruit for a sweet treat.
You’ll need to prepare your own meals, so you’ll need to learn how to cook, if you don’t already know, or have someone prepare your meals for you. Going out to eat is probably not going to be an option for a while, unless you have a local natural foods store or restaurant that serves whole organically grown food. Make your meals appetizing. There’s no reason not to have healthy food that tastes good. Use sea salt and pepper, herbs and spices. Be creative!
Many people have difficulty healing due to the fact that they are malnourished. The list of foods their bodies tolerate is very small. But our bodies need to have food to stay alive. Reactions to foods are not the same as reactions to chemicals. Foods themselves do not cause harm to the body, though they may cause reactive symptoms. It’s important to continue to eat, so sometimes the trade-off is to eat foods that cause reactions.
Food tolerance is directly related to one’s chemical exposure. I saw first-hand, in myself and others, that when we reduced our chemical exposure, we were able to eat more foods. I strongly recommend to anyone who has food intolerances that you reduce your chemical exposure and see what happens to your food tolerances. If you want to test this out on your own body, go on a vacation for three or four days where the air is very clean, such as in the mountains or at the beach. After several days, you should be able to eat at least some foods you thought you were allergic to.
If you find that you really don’t have many foods you can tolerate, eat them in rotation to help your body regain tolerance. The theory is that food allergies develop because in our modern world, we eat the same foods over and over again at every meal every day. But our bodies are not designed for that. If we were living out in the wild, which is the natural environment for which our bodies were designed, we would be eating a wide variety of foods very irregularly, as we are able to hunt or gather them. Various fruits and vegetation would be available only seasonally, and then we wouldn’t eat it again until next year. We would have to hunt and kill an animal or rob a nest for eggs and these events wouldn’t happen every day. Our modern eating patterns are completely different from what our bodies are designed for, so it’s no wonder that our bodies develop problems with food.
It takes four days for all the residues of a food to leave your body entirely. If you wait until your body is completely free of the food before eating it again, slowly your body will regain tolerance. The standard practice for food allergy rotation diet is to make a list of tolerated foods, and make a rotation plan so that the list is spread out over the four days, then you start the list again. A five-day rotation is even better. There is a bit of an art to this. Choose foods that taste good together to eat together. Combine beef and mushrooms together, for example, rather than mushrooms and guavas.
3. DRINK A LOT OF PURE SPRING WATER
After many years of research, it is clear to me that spring water, as close to straight from the spring as possible, is the most life-sustaining.
In the past, my best recommendation for water used to be to use a distiller, but I’ve changed my mind. Even though many health advisors still recommend distilled water, in some parts of the world it is considered a poison. In Japan, bottles of distilled water are labeled with skulls and crossbones. Fish will not live in distilled water. It is the purest in the sense that it, when combined with carbon, has the fewest pollutants. But it is also missing the minerals contained in natural spring water.
Though distillation does come closest to duplicating nature’s own process for purification, in nature, the full cycle includes the pure water trickling down into the earth and being “recharged” with minerals before it bubbles up in a spring. Water containing these minerals is what Nature intended for us to drink.
Ideally, we would all go collect fresh water from a local spring. But since that isn’t available to most people, purchase spring water in glass bottles, and if that it’s available, purchase spring water in clear PET plastic bottles. Even spring water in plastic bottles is better than tap water.
Drink A LOT of water. Most people don’t drink nearly enough. It is generally recommended that an adult drink eight eight-ounce glasses (2 quarts) of water each day, but most people don’t drink even that. My doctor told me I should drink a gallon (4 quarts) of water every day. I can tell you, when I drink more water, my body feels better and my mind is more alert. Water contributes to every body function, so I’m not surprised I feel better.
It has been a challenge for me to drink even 2 quarts of water, but it can be done. Here’s how to do it. Measure out whatever you decide your daily intake to be. Start with 2 quarts, because that is the minimum, and work up to four. Use two quart-size bottles. Decide to drink one bottle between certain hours, say 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. and the other between 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Then you can drink three quarts, one every four hours, and then four quarts, one every three hours. By timing it this way, you can make sure you are getting your water in, and you don’t have to measure. I buy my spring water in gallon bottles, so I just need to drink the whole bottle throughout the day. I can readily see how much I have left.
Don’t rely on thirst as a reminder to drink. By the time you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. Drink throughout the day to keep your body hydrated and healthy.
Here are some tips for drinking water:
* Carry a quart-size water bottle with you.
* Drink at set times during the day.
* Set alarms on your watch or computer to remind you to drink until you develop the habit.
* If you have regular breaks at work, start each break with a drink of water.
* Every time you think of drinking something else, drink water instead. Your body needs water–other beverages don’t have the same beneficial effect.
4. MOVE YOUR BODY EVERY DAY
Many toxic chemicals are stored in the adipose fat tissue in our bodies. One way to release them is to burn the fat through exercise.
But take this slowly. You don’t want to exercise a lot and get a big rush of chemicals into your bloodstream.
Do whatever you can do to move. If you are bed-ridden, wiggle your fingers and toes and lift your arms and legs. If you can get out of bed, walk around your room and then around the house.
Walking is excellent exercise, particularly if you can walk outdoors in an area where the air is clean, such as at the beach or in a park, rather than along a busy street. Search out good places to walk so you know where they are when it’s time to walk.
Get some comfortable shoes, so you can walk as long as you want to.
Listen to music, bring a friend to talk to, or just look around while you are walking. Just the act of looking outward at your surroundings instead of focusing on your illness will make you feel better.
If all you can do is walk five minutes, or even one minute, start with that and gradually increase time and distance.
Movement is essential to your recovery. Eating fresh vegetables and fruits, drinking lots of water, and exercise will begin to release toxic chemicals from your body. Fortunately, exercise also stimulates the lymphatic system, which eliminates toxins from your body. Unlike the bloodstream, which is moved by the pumping heart, the lymph system requires body movement to get it going. Without movement, all the toxic chemicals just sit in your body. So get moving! Turn on some music and dance! Whatever you enjoy–just move!
5. USE LIFE-ENHANCING THERAPIES
You can recover from multiple chemical sensitivities on your own, without modern medicine. Indeed, the antidote for this illness is to remove your body from modern life, and let it heal naturally.
If you wish to give your body support in it’s healing, use what are called “alternative” or “complementary” therapies, such as chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy, bodywork, or other therapies designed to restore balance and flow to the body. Each of these practices, and others, have helped my body.
I suggest that you explore the different therapies available to you and see what effects they have on your own body. Also, I have found a wide variation in the skill of different practitioners, so if one practitioner isn’t effective, try another.
You’ll need to find the right combination of therapy and therapist that works for you.
I want to say a few words about detox programs. In general, I don’t recommend them. For most people who are chemically sensitive, it’s better to detox your body slowly by eating fresh vegetables and fruits, drinking a lot of water, and gentle exercise. However, if your body is strong enough, there is a program that will effectively remove toxic substances from your body and is worth doing. But you can also recover without it.
6. BENEFIT FROM THE POWER OF MIND AND SPIRIT
As strange as it may sound, I actually consider my chemical sensitivity to be a blessing. Illness is a sign that there is something going on in your life that is not life-sustaining. It is an opportunity to find not only health, but happiness.
For me, my recovery included questioning everything about my life. Prior to this illness, I didn’t think much for myself, but just accepted everything that others put into my life, including products containing toxic chemicals.
In order to recover, I had to start making my own choices. I became more self-determined. The illness was the result of my not taking responsibility for my life, and it showed me that I needed to take responsibility if I wanted to survive.
There are many different methods of self-examination. Explore them and find one that suits you. I’ve used many different methods and each helped me at the time. As you grow, be willing to find new methods that allow you to learn different aspects of yourself.
You can also use your mind to heal your body. The body operates on instructions from the mind. While toxic chemicals do exist and do have the potential to cause harm, how and when you are exposed to them, and even how your body reacts to them can be your choice.
Where you put your attention can also make a difference. If you are constantly focused on your body and how it feels and how to take care of it, you can get caught up in worry. Part of healing is to get interested is something besides your illness. What got me up in the morning when I was sick was my interest in doing all the research on toxic chemicals in products and, even more importantly, the search for the nontoxic products I could use and enjoy. When I began to write, it was much more interesting to write a book than to be sick. Even now, I find that I feel most vibrant and alive when I am interested in some creative project.
Do whatever need to do to reduce stress in your life as much as possible. Handle problem situations, take time to relax. Have fun. Stress contributes to multiple chemical sensitivities as much as any other factor.
And use your spiritual resources, whatever they may be. If you don’t already have a religion or spiritual practice, explore this area and discover the peace and power it holds for healing.
Our bodies are actually very resilient. They don’t need a lot of care. They do need basic maintenance and to not be under the constant threat of our chemical environment. Beyond that, one’s personal interest in and excitement about life goes a long way towards creating good health.
7. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH SUPPORT
I have to say that I could not have recovered without the support of the people around me, particularly my father. I was fortunate that I had loved ones who believed my illness was real and did what they could to help me.
If you don’t have this kind of support in your own family or circle of friends, find it wherever you can. We all need encouragement, validation, information and help.
Support groups can be lifesaving if you have multiple chemical sensitivities. If you don’t have one in your local area, start one. Just a bit of advice, however. Make sure your support group is about supporting its members in recovering from this illness, and not about coping with it. I left a support group because everyone in it just wanted to sit around and complain about how sick they were. But if you are all committed to recovering, you can help each other do so for the benefit of everyone in the group.
Please also read My Story, for more information on each of these topics.
photo credits: Yoga meditation webphotographeer / iStockphoto
Hailed as “The Queen of Green” by the New York Times, Debra Lynn Dadd has been a leading consumer advocate for products and lifestyle choices that are better for health and the environment since 1982. Visit her website to learn more about her new book Home Safe Home, to sign up for her free email newsletters, and to browse 100s of links to 1000s of nontoxic, natural and earthwise products.