NOHA Member Lynn Lawson, who from 1987 to 1992 co-edited NOHA NEWS, has spent the last four years writing Staying Well in a Toxic World: Understanding Environmental Illness; Multiple Chemical Sensitivities; Chemical Injuries; Sick Building Syndrome.* Her book carefully documents many of the hidden chemical dangers to which we are daily subjected and gives numerous excellent ways to greatly reduce exposures and thus avoid becoming chemically injured. Reducing exposures means taking a new approach to all our purchases and activities, one that has been advocated by NOHA Professional Advisory Board Member Theron G. Randolph, MD, for over forty years. When we are willing to adopt this approach, we can significantly improve our immediate, short term health, and dramatically improve our long term health and productivity.

Our Toxic Environment
A rapidly growing number of people here in the United States and worldwide, have the condition known as environmental illness/multiple chemical sensitivity (EI/MCS). These chemically injured people are like the coal mine canaries and their condition should be a warning to us all. Their symptoms vary greatly; in kind and in severity: some of them can lead a fairly normal life, with precautions; others cannot go out or function at most jobs. When the latter come into even brief contact with people wearing scented products, walk into a room that is newly carpeted or has been treated with a pesticide or cleaned with a toxic cleaner, or eat any food containing even a trace of pesticide, they may become incapacitated, experience muscle weakness, faint, and/or feel dizzy. Like the "bubble man," Mike Monroe, from "Northern Exposures," a few have to live in their own, special, air filtered rooms, drink totally clean filtered water, and eat only "organic" food, which has been grown without any pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Unfortunately, standard medicine does not recognize EI/MCS because it is not taught in medical schools. Modern medicine is also getting more specialized with the result that many EI/MCS patients have been referred by their primary doctor to specialist after specialist, spending years of time and thousands of dollars on expensive, but useless drugs and tests, until their "mystery illness" is finally referred to a psychotherapist. There again, they can spend many years and thousands of dollars, all in vain, without finding the true causes of their symptoms. The "mystery illness" suffered by many veterans from the Gulf War is a prime example.

These chemically injured people are like the coal mine canaries and their condition should be a warning to us all.

Standard medicine emphasizes drugs as symptom suppressants and assumes humans are basically the same: X symptom needs Y drug. Specific drugs for specific contagious diseases have been exceedingly effective in the past. However, when chronic diseases are exacerbated by environmental exposures, symptom-suppressing drugs are only a palliative and often worsens the patient's underlying condition. Many years ago Dr. Randolph discovered that his chemically sensitive patients usually react to all the products of the petrochemical industry. In our present society these products are ubiquitous. Many drugs and their excipients are petroleum-based and gradually or sometimes quickly worsen the condition of chemically sensitive patients. Environmental medicine requires more work, but uses the uniqueness of each individual to identify the root causes of symptoms, and removes them. Some causes turn out to be side effects of previously prescribed drugs!

Since World War II, the number of chemicals that industry produces annually has doubled every eleven years. The overwhelming majority of these chemicals have not been tested for long-term human health effects, and even fewer are properly tested by truly objective, publicly (not industry) funded testing laboratories. Even worse, virtually no testing is done at all on the synergistic (combined) effects of two or more of these drugs and chemicals. As a matter of fact, it would be unbelievably complicated—if not impossible—to test the combined and changing effects of our multiple toxic exposures. However, we should at least have tests of individual chemicals, but Lynn mentions a1984 study by the National Academy of Sciences, which concludes that "some 80 percent of the sixty-five thousand industrial chemicals then in use had 'no toxicity information available '"! These chemicals are a factor contributing to chronic symptoms such as headaches, nausea, drowsiness, and fatigue that at times affect all of us—if not totally incapacitating us, at least lowering our productivity at work and making our daily lives miserable.

On this subject, Lynn uses a quotation from NOHA NEWS, Spring 1990, from The Kellogg Report: The Impact of Nutrition Environment & Lifestyle on the Health of Americans by NOHA Speaker Joseph D. Beasley, MD, and Jerry J. Swift, MA:

The chronic diseases—both social and medical—are really symptoms of a much more vast underlying problem. They are the final culmination of years of inadequate nutrition, a toxic environment, sedentary lifestyles, familial and social disruptions, and dependence on artificial agents (from cigarettes to cocaine) for happiness. Every cell in our bodies—from the brain to the immune system—is affected by these abuses. The effects are particularly devastating in developing children—both in and out of the womb.

In our toxic environment, there are five primary sources of synthetic chemicals: (1) pesticide residues on our food, (2) drugs, both prescription and non-prescription, (3) indoor air pollution (sick building syndrome) primarily from rugs, cleaners, and building materials, (4) personal grooming products (used by both men and women), detergents, and fabric softeners, and (5) auto exhaust and other outdoor air pollution.

"MCS patients - 
the proverbial canaries of the mine -
may be the early victims of
better living through chemistry."

Cartoon from The Labor Institute, NYC.

What action can we take to reduce these sickening exposures and the entrenched bureaucracies that continue to proliferate and produce all these toxic drugs and chemicals?

In our personal choices, we can simplify our lifestyle, gradually eliminate the toxic things that surround us, and buy new things carefully. Lynn has found that living more simply and carefully means being healthier. We need to remember, as she puts it, that every purchase we make is essentially a command to the producer or manufacturer to supply another one. Every purchase of a pesticided food gives a message to the farmer and the distributor that it is all right to put poison on our food and into the earth and the air. Similarly, every purchase of toxic clothing and other products gives the message to the manufacturers to go on producing the same things. If instead we purchase less toxic products, ultimately we can have a revolutionary impact on agricultural methods worldwide, on the production of truly nontoxic environmentally safe products, and on the incidence of chronic health problems that have been caused by the toxic exposures.

(In regard to our air and water, we can follow the advice given in "Environmental Control" by NOHA Professional Advisory Board Member Robert W. Boxer, MD, in NOHA NEWS, Spring 1994.)

Food and its Contaminants
For healthier eating, we can grow totally organic produce on our own perhaps tiny property, where we have never used pesticides or chemical fertilizers. We need to be careful about drift from neighbors who pesticide and cautious about lead paint contaminating the earth around older homes. We can buy organic nuts, fruits, vegetables, and meat, including chicken and dairy products. Deep ocean fish is likely to be less contaminated than farm-raised or coastal fish. Since pesticide drift is worldwide, Dr. Randolph refers to organic food as "chemically less contaminated." However, when the organic food is carefully grown and away from obvious drift, he has found that his most chemically sensitive patients can tolerate it. When he had an environmental control unit and was testing patients for their tolerance to particular foods, every day there would be dramatic examples of patients who had no symptoms at all from a particular organic food but who reacted with numerous symptoms to the same food purchased from a regular supermarket. The staff were not surprised, only the patients and their families!

There is enormous use of pesticides in the United States, but because of developing pest resistance the pesticides all fail in their purpose of reducing crop and livestock losses. Quoting from Staying Well in a Toxic World,

In 1991 U.S. farmers applied about 76 percent of all pesticides sold in this country (more than one billion pounds, as narrowly defined), over half of them herbicides. But astonishingly, according to the National Toxics Campaign, less than 0.1 percent of these chemicals reach the intended pest. The rest, 99.9 percent, contaminate our soil, water, and food. And the pesticides that do reach the pests are losing their effectiveness. Between 1940 and 1984, crop losses to insects almost doubled even with a twelve-fold increase in insecticides. "Corn losses to insects more than tripled between 1945 and 1985 despite a thousand-fold increase in insecticides used on corn crops," according to the textbook Environmental Science. Over a twenty-five-year period, according to a 1993 report Agrichemicals in America: Farmers' Reliance on Pesticides and Fertilizers, there was a 125 percent increase in pounds per acre of pesticides applied to U.S. cropland, with fruit and vegetable farms using more than livestock and dairy farms. . . .

Biochemist-turned-farmer John B. Clark has farmed his eighteen hundred acres in southwestern Michigan without pesticides since 1978 and without soluble chemical fertilizers since 1985. The results on his farm and all over the world, Clark says, are almost always the same: "Yields get better as organic practices are continued, and pest problems virtually disappear [italics his]. Natural pest controls, which are suppressed in chemical farming, get healthier and more effective every year. Plant and livestock health improves; soil tilth improves every year, and so does soil moisture retention. . . . The sad truth. . . is that all the risks associated with pesticides are unnecessary risks."

[Iowa farmer Tom Furlong argues that] the chemical companies "have convinced a lot of people . . . we can't farm without chemicals, and I don't believe that's true," Progressive Iowa was in 1993 the only state to tax pesticides and then pay farmers to find better alternatives, like crop rotation; these farmers find that crop yields increase. Dick Harter, a California rice farmer, says that government agencies and the land-grant colleges (those with influential agriculture departments) have been slow to take alternative farming seriously. Hence alternative farmers must do their own research, for the bulk of agricultural research is "subsidized by the government and the companies that make pesticides and fertilizers. They're big supporters of the land-grant universities."

As might be expected from a NOHA member and long-time co-editor of NOHA NEWS, Staying Well in a Toxic World contains an excellent description of the problems arising from the use of processed foods and food additives. In fact, in the section on "What to Eat," our NOHA "bull's-eye" is recommended as a convenient chart for choosing nutrient-dense foods and avoiding those with the fewest nutrients and those containing anti-nutrients. (On the latter, see Superimmunity for Kids, by Leo Galland, MD, reviewed in "Nutrition and the Immune System: What Our Children Need," the lead article in NOHA NEWS, Summer 1989.)

Every purchase of a pesticided food gives a message to the farmer and the distributor that it is all right to put poison on our food and into the earth and the air.

On food sensitivity Lynn summarizes an interview by former NOHA President Marjorie Hurt Jones, RN, with Jean Monro, an English physician who has conducted several studies of headache patients.

"Without exception," she says, "if we investigated long enough, and extensively enough, we found foods that triggered symptoms." These were not the foods traditionally thought to cause headaches—chocolate, alcohol, and cheeses—but common, frequently eaten foods like wheat and dairy products, and also tea, oranges, apples, onions, pork, and beef. Her patients were usually able to reduce their reactivity by avoiding suspect foods, by ridding their environment of molds, house plants, tobacco smoke, petroleum-based products, gas appliances, and other triggering factors; and by following a rotation diet (rotating means not repeating any food until your body has gotten rid of it, usually for four days).

What To Eat?
Lynn's food chapter ends with the following recommendations. Besides buying and using NOHA's bulls-eye and rotating as many of your foods as you can:

  • Avoid processed foods whenever possible. Eating "close to nature" doesn't mean you have to live in a cave; it only means choosing more of such foods as, for example, nuts and seeds—plain, undyed, untreated, without coatings or seasonings to make them "taste better." It means making your own chicken soup in large batches from unsprayed ingredients, and freezing leftovers in glass jars. If you're musing "I don't have time," think instead of how important your health is to you. You'll find time if you have a strong incentive.
  • Seek out organic food. Shop at health food stores or at the new chains, such as Whole Foods Market and Fresh Fields, popping up around the country, selling organic and exotic produce and unusual grains like spelt and kamut. If their food costs more than that in [other] supermarkets, remember that it probably contains more nutrients.
  • Be sure to ask whether such stores spray their stores with pesticides.
  • Grow your own produce. . . .
  • Beware of supermarkets. Shop the walls, with their fresh, refrigerated, and frozen basics—not the aisles, with their rows of enticingly packaged, long-shelf-life, factory-produced food. Remember that you want a long life instead. . . .
  • Never buy irradiated or genetically engineered food. Realize that you are being treated as a guinea pig.
  • Vary your foods. Even if you don't follow a strict rotation diet, you'll have a better chance of obtaining essential trace elements, and you may discover new taste treats. Try unusual, delicious foods now becoming available, like starfruit, Asian pears; taro; daikon; jicama; amaranth and buckwheat (alternatives to grain); spelt and teff (rare grains). Put lovely, edible nasturtium flowers in your next salad. . . .
  • Cook foods simply. Some, such as fruits, need not be cooked at all.
  • Experience or re-experience the wonderful taste of raw, natural, unprocessed food. Is there anything more delicious than an unsprayed, unsweetened, sun-ripened, juicy red strawberry in June? Or a crisp, aromatic apple fresh from an unsprayed tree in the fall? Or plain, organic almonds—toasted or untoasted? Don't worry: your taste buds are not yet too jaded for such treats.

An Endangered Species
Lynn's book is superbly written, designed to educate people how to take responsibility for their own health and actually for the health of all of us living on this planet together. She changes our focus. Many environmental groups want to "save the earth" and its endangered species—excellent purposes in themselves. However, so far most of our efforts have tended to be ignored and discounted by agribusiness and the other polluting industries. Lynn points out that we ourselves are an endangered species. When we realize this and change the focus of the popular slogans, they become much more urgent and powerful:

Try substituting "health" for "environment" or "earth" or "planet" in a few phrases and see how the emphasis changes. "Environmentally safer" becomes "safer for my health." "Save the planet" becomes "save my health." "Shopping for a better environment" becomes "shopping for better health." "The earth is under siege" becomes "my health is under siege." "Save the seals" becomes "save the humans." "Not in my back yard" becomes "not in my body." The focus is different—and more accurate. The problem is closer to home. It is more urgent. It's no longer abstract, thousands of miles away or even in your back yard. It's in your body. You don't want those toxic chemicals in your body fat. It's time to do something, to buy really safe products.

In addition to all the documented information and practical solutions, the book has many gripping stories, including Lynn's own. Here are two unsolicited comments sent to Lynn about her book and a quote from one of the personal stories:

  • "I was truly impressed with the tremendous amount of research you did in writing the book. It's also extremely readable"— from NOHA Honorary Member William G. Crook, MD.
  • "Every household, school, hospital, retirement home, and business [should have] a copy of your life-enhancing book. It should be required reading. Perhaps a course in all high schools and colleges could revolve around your important publication"—from NOHA Member Susanne Jessen.
  • Finally, these words of a pesticide-injured doctor, taken from a New Yorker article, sum up what this book is all about and why Lynn is doing her best to spread its message:

    I'm just beginning to realize that the world is a very dangerous place. It's something nobody really wants to think about. I mean the thousands and thousands of toxic chemicals that have become so much a part of modern living. I mean the people who use them without really knowing what they can do. I mean the where and how and why they use them. Its frightening. I think I'm pretty much recovered now. I haven't had any trouble for over a year. But you never know. The only thing I'm sure of is that I'm going to have to be very careful for the rest of my life.


"Gulf Veterans May Suffer From Chemical Sensitivity"

Cartoon from The Labor Institute, NYC.

"Over 100 Persian Gulf War veterans are being examined for evidence of chemical sensitivity.  These veterans were combat-support troops who were exposed in their tents to fumes from portable heaters fueled by a blend of leaded gasoline and diesel fuel.  They may also have been exposed to pesticide sprays and chemicals in food and water.

The American Academy of Environmental medicine has agreed to conduct a study of 100 of the approximately 1,000 veterans thought to be exposed."

"Workers at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Develop MCS"

Cartoon from The Labor Institute, NYC.

*Lynnword Press at P.O. Box 1732, Evanston, IL 60201. Please make your check payable to Lynn Lawson. The price per copy (including shipping) is $20.23 in Illinois, and $18.95 outside Illinois.

Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XIX, No. 4, Fall 1994, pages 1-4,8.