We asked Dr. Lisa Nagy to share her dramatic story of chemical and electrical sensitivity and recovery, and of the dental metals that were behind her problems.
Dr. Nagy: The science and art of medicine is much more complex than we presumed in medical school. Although disbelieved, environmentally ill patients are becoming a large percentage of the population. Many of us go unrecognized because we are “masked” and cannot tell we are ill from the detergents, perfumes and chemicals we are wearing or exposed to everyday.
I developed chemical and electrical sensitivity while living in a house in Los Angeles. Initially, I only knew I was sad, had weak muscles and couldn’t stand up for very long — it soon seemed I was crying all the time. I couldn’t bear to use the telephone or to be under fluorescent lighting. Exposure to smells, chemicals, many foods (like wine, cheese, and nuts) and even antique wood — which is faintly moldy — gave me a headache and made me feel exhausted. Clothing tags became extremely irritating, and perfume and diesel odors were intolerable. I had grown hypersensitive to my surroundings. Adrenal insufficiency was eventually diagnosed in myself and later in my husband.
In time I was fully disabled and my incredulous husband and I sold our house and moved to a rental nearby. We were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. A year later I found that I had been suffering mold poisoning, primarily due to mold in a huge fish tank that was built into the living room wall of that first home. The toxins in the air had overloaded my system and made me intolerant of all chemicals, especially pesticides. A muscle biopsy showed that I had severe damage to my mitochondria, the energy producer in all our cells.
What I had is called chemical sensitivity or environmental illness. It is common but somewhat invisible. And this medical condition is not rare. Prevalence studies in California and New Mexico found that 16% of the respondents reported being chemically sensitive. Additionally, in New Mexico 2% of the respondents reported having been diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS)—the more severe form of chemical sensitivities. In California, 3.5% reported having been diagnosed with MCS. Although women report being chemically sensitive twice as often as men, which contributes to its “hysteria” label, those reporting chemical sensitivities are otherwise evenly distributed with respect to age, education, income, and geographic areas. Chemical sensitivities are also evenly reported among ethnic and racial groups, except for Native Americans, who reported a higher prevalence in both studies.
Further, about 15% of those who are chemically sensitive have electrical sensitivity as well. Electrical sensitivity sounds wacky, I know, but when you have it, it is very real and quite uncomfortable. My hand would heat up while holding my cell phone. My ear would burn from the ear piece. Gadgets that spin, like fans or tape decks, have high electromagnetic fields and they made me weak. Just picking up the regular phone could make me need to urinate, or cause chest discomfort and sweating—I wanted to hang up! Even more bizarre and scary: while swimming in a salt water pool I would get electric shocks in my fingers as I swam by the underwater pool lights!
Another Condition is Diagnosed: Dysautonomia
At this time I was also diagnosed with an interesting neurologic condition called dysautonomia, which occurs in 85% of people who are “environmentally ill.” Crossing ones legs while standing is an early sign, or wrapping the legs around each other (called “pretzel legs”). These moves are done to keep the blood in the head and chest, otherwise the blood would pool in the legs and cause weakness or fainting.
Exposure to chemicals in stores (like formaldehyde while shopping in Home Depot) would make me dysautonomic and electrical appliances would make me even more dysautonomic; I would need to lie down. I was prescribed a vasoconstricting (causes the blood vessels to narrow) medication called Midodrine to remedy this condition, as well as a volume expander (Florinef; a cortico-steroid).
Near the end of my rope, I eventually figured out that I needed to be treated by an environmental physician, and I went to The Environmental Health Center of Dallas to see William Rea, MD. I was encouraged that after this treatment I was partially better. You can find a local physician at AAEM.com. I suggest you consider this if you suffer from chronic illness or obvious environmental illness such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, allergies, adrenal fatigue as well as chemical sensitivity. They look into the genetics of your detoxification capabilities, study your autonomic nervous system and hormone levels, do food and other allergy testing and treatment (neutralization), prescribe vitamins and nutrients orally and intravenously, and test your immune system scientifically. Most importantly, they get you away from that which is making you sick!
Sauna treatments are often an integral part in the treatment process for detoxification. It is important to start with a short time interval (such as five minutes) initially and build up as needed. Saunas should be used under the care of a doctor, as the detoxification process can result in increased symptoms if it is pursued too aggressively.
Oral Galvanism Uncovered
Oral galvanism is a state in which two dissimilar metals in the mouth result in abnormal electrical charges. I had already had all of my amalgam (“silver”) fillings removed, or so I thought. But then I went to a holistic dentist (see iaomt.org) for an assessment. An oral potential meter (made by Pertec) was used to measure the voltages and currents in my teeth. I had a number of crowns with porcelain over metal. Most crowns had currents of 1 micro ampere or so. But one of my crowns showed a current of 11 microamperes—and a very high electrical voltage of 420 millivolts.
I had that crown removed first, because one is supposed to remove the highest ones first. Voila! I hadn’t anticipated any immediate response but when I reached home and I was able to talk on the phone for three hours instead of three minutes! I no longer needed Midodrine to get up out of bed. I had required it to raise my blood pressure for two years straight — and now none! Other improvements: the smell of cigarettes seemed almost pleasant instead of making me run for the hills. I could tolerate car exhaust and perfume immediately. I contacted many environ-mental physicians and patients to tell of the amazing positive change in my illness over night.
The dentist discovered that I’d had an amalgam filling under the metal crown that had been placed just before I became really ill back in 2000. The two dissimilar metal materials touching had created a strong battery effect, causing the oral galvanism that seemed to short out my autonomic nervous system. Somehow, fixing the autonomic nervous system also led to a more normal central nervous system interpretation of odors and electrical fields, allowing for a return to a more normal life! My adrenal function also returned, thanks to the decrease in stress or total body load. In retrospect, getting away from the “bad” house was essential, but removing the crown and the amalgam under it was the last step in getting well.
Advice from Dr. Nagy
I have ended up on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where the air is clean and the mold is everywhere! I write articles on the subject and help people who are referred for environmental illness get to an environmental physician before they end up so mentally impaired that they won’t be able to cooperate with the treatment. Initially, people tend to deny that they have chemcial sensitivities. It takes a couple of months to grasp it. Lay people are much better at “getting it” — doctors are incredulous and rude. As Sherry Rogers, MD, advises: “Don’t waste your time trying to convince every physician you meet about this. It is a waste of your limited energy!”
This is very important. Most doctors won’t listen to you, so don’t even try. Many family members will abandon you. Many people reading this newsletter will have already experienced this, I’m sure.
Don’t forget to look into dental issues. I have interviewed many patients, especially those with psychiatric issues or symptoms of electrical sensitivity, who have become well after removing their high voltage dental work. Bizarre, eh? I guess too much electricity next to the brain is not a good thing. It is easy to check one’s dental currents, and I suggest that all chronically ill patients consider removing their amalgam fillings, any crown with an underlying amalgam, and any crown or filling with an electric current greater than 1 microampere.
My advice to you is: Do not give up on your health until you get well. Each practitioner (alternative therapist, environmental physician, or holistic dentist) has something different to offer. I was helped, and someone can help you as well.