STAYING WELL IN A TOXIC WORLD
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
[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
- 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 seedsplain, 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
- 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 basicsnot 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 almondstoasted 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:
"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.