Multiple chemical sensitivity exists, but it’s not what you think

For those who have only one hammer, everything is essential. The medical model continues to seek and seek, in an endless spiral, the organic “error” that causes multiple chemical sensitivity (SQM). Organ or physiological process responsible for perverse reactions to certain external agents.

In an emphasis that has more to do with faith than with science, they still fail to understand that SQM escapes the organicist assumptions of the biomedical paradigm.

    What is multiple chemical sensitivity?

    SQM, also known as idiopathic environmental intolerance, Is a disorder in which exposure to certain agents such as odors, electromagnetic radiation or certain foods causes symptoms such as pain, nausea, dizziness, tachycardia or suffocation.

    Apparently the first to name this set of symptoms was the American allergist Teron G. Randolph in the 1950s. Since then, a lot of and varied research has been done with patients with SQM, analyzing every part of their body. From the simplest tests to the most advanced technology. From analyzing the most important organs to the tiny molecules, peptides or enzymes that inhabit our bodies. From organic to psychological, analyzing possible conditions or the personality of those affected.

    The conclusion has not changed over the years: there is nothing in the body of a person with SQM that warrants these reactions.

    However, researchers based on the biomedical model consider it to be more diligent search, as it is only a matter of time before the physiological structure or process underlying the disorder arises, allowing to develop a drug that reverses the supposed condition.

    As if it were easy to create a drug that reverses a specific condition. Most drugs were discovered by chance (coincidence) and, with the exception of antibiotics, hardly any have the ability to work on a specific cause. Most drugs work by reversing several processes simultaneously, which gives the chance that the pathobiological is part of it.

    These researchers think so because of the professional deformation. In Einstein’s words, it is the theories that determine what we can observe, and from the organicist framework they have no other way to develop a theory that addresses the complexity of SQM.

    Stoic patients, by contemporary distortion, tend to see their problem according to the dominant theory of the time in which they must have lived, which is none other than the organicist. Ignoring the other possibilities, they are convinced that the solution to their problem must come from the medical model.: There is something in your body that is not working well, and it is only a matter of time before they find it.

    However, the organic cause does not appear and medicine continues without providing an effective remedy. This causes the patient with SQM to have a complicated integration into the health system. This pilgrim through all the medical specialties until he finds himself in the tailor’s drawer of the troubles that the medical model sinks into, very far from the respected patient who has suffered a stroke or has a broken leg .

    They fearlessly fight to have their problem classified as a disease (There is a physical cause), because this is the only chance they have to be considered. Paradoxically, however, each level of consideration as a disease places them a little further from the solution of the disorder, which cannot reach the hand of the organicist paradigm.

    Two keys to understanding SQM

    Let’s take a look at two aspects of multiple chemical sensitivity that help you understand what it is:

    1. Psychological vs physiological

    There is a serious misunderstanding of what psychological means. When it is suggested that SQM may have a mental origin, physicians and patients are excluded. But the truth is that when we talk about problems that arise between a person and reality (perfume, detergent, food, radiation …), the psychological must be considered, it cannot be otherwise.

    Because? Because no human being can come into direct contact with reality. If there is a real reality, you can’t access it, you do it through your perceptual system, a psychological process. Your senses pick up part of this reality and your mind gives it meaning based on its two main interests: survival and reproduction. Our senses have not evolved to show us reality as it is, they have evolved to increase our chances of survival.

    We humans have come to agreement on what reality is because we have the same perceptual system, not because we are endowed with senses that show us objective reality. The reality perceived by a bat or a mollusk is totally different from ours, and yet it has the same truthfulness.

    Therefore, there is no real reality, there are as many realities as there are men, and what causes the trouble is not the scent, the radiation or the food, it is the image that ‘an organism built on scent, radiance or’ food ‘, which is very different.

    All of your interactions with reality are mediated by a perceptual system which, depending on what you perceive, will tend to respond in some way. Although the excesses of the biomedical model with the brain lend themselves to the writing of an encyclopedia, it is important to clarify that this construction of reality is mental and not cerebral.

    The brain is one part of the conglomerate that allows sensation, not generates it. Thinking that the brain on its own is capable of generating sensations is like thinking that crying over the loss of a loved one is caused by the tear glands.

    Let’s look at an example:


    Pain is not the property of an injury or injury. If you break a leg, this injury does not have the capacity to cause pain. What it generates is a signal that signals damage. Being interpreted by the body (not the brain alone) as a threat to your survival, it triggers pain, a defense mechanism that prevents you from moving the area to aid recovery.


    For example, pollen cannot cause any reaction in your body, it does not have this ability. Pollen allergy occurs when the body perceives pollen as threatening and responds by closing the airways.


    We colloquially say that a lion is afraid, but this fear that we are referring to is not the property of the lion. Fear is a consequence of the lion’s body perception of threat, triggering the fight-flight response.


    The smell of detergent, no matter how strong, cannot cause pain or nausea. These defensive reactions are a consequence of the body’s threatening assessment of this strong odor.

    The most important point is to understand that there is nothing in reality (radiation, food, smell …) that can cause the typical reactions of SQM (pain, nausea, diarrhea …).

    As one can see, between reality and our experience there is always a mental process: Nothing outside can elicit the usual SQM responses. At most, we could consider that these are triggers for a threat assessment, which will trigger the corresponding defensive reactions.

      2. Physical damage against defensive reaction

      One thing is the damage from an external agent, the injury from contact with a burning radiator and another very different pain. Pain, as we have seen, is not the property of injury, it is our body’s reaction to a threat to our survival.

      In recent years, environmental medicine has emerged, the branch that studies diseases caused by toxic substances. A branch that has not yet realized that one thing is the effects that can cause in the body of additives, dyes, preservatives or pollution, such as metabolic disturbances or impaired fertility … and another very different the reaction of the organism to them, because:

      • Diarrhea results from evaluating that there is something threatening. Opening the floodgates with the goal is to get rid of it.
      • Nausea occurs due to the evaluation of something threatening in the digestive system or the external presence of something that should not be ingested. Vomiting is the mechanism to get rid of it.
      • We have already seen that the pain reaction is always preceded by an evaluation.
      • A tachycardia is the result of another organismic assessment, which concludes to accelerate the organism.

      What matters is the interpretation of reality

      So, SMQ cannot be caused by external agents. It is caused by the interpretation of these external agents.

      It’s not the detergent, it’s your body’s opinion of the detergent. To think that an outside agent can cause these reactions is not to understand how we relate to reality or how our body functions. It is not the reality that poses the problem, it is the image that we construct of it.

      The cause of SQM is a perception of threat. This is what triggers all the other psychophysiological reactions (nausea, pain, vomiting, tachycardia, etc.).

      The problem with the biomedical paradigm is that it focuses on organic without being able to achieve a global vision. The psychological is not understood, and when called upon it seems to allude to something made up, unreal or that can be overcome if the person really wants to … without understanding the depth of the concept .

      How the SQM works it is based on the logic of belief: Beliefs linked to our personal deceptions are perceptual distortions or repeated experiences that structure knowledge. If you hear that a certain agent is causing these reactions in some people, and you start to doubt and fear that the same is happening to you, your body may start to trigger reactions such as nausea, pain, diarrhea, vomiting. ..

      The next time you approach such an agent, the reaction will be even more automatic. The origin was a perception, a psychological process; however, that does not mean that it is invented, Unreal or caused by the same person.

      The origin of a pain caused by a broken leg, and the origin of another caused by a strong smell of detergent, is the same: a mental checkup. Psychological does not mean invented.

      The power of perception

      If you think a perception can’t cause these types of symptoms, know that it can be even worse.

      Walter Cannon published an article many years ago in 1942 entitled: Voodoo Death. As has been shown, a person’s belief in the power of a curse can kill them within hours. And it’s not psychological death, the symptoms it causes are real, so real they lead to collapse and death. He also tells of another case in which a person on the verge of dying from the curse of a nearby wizard, saves his life in a short time to force that wizard to remove the curse.

      As psychologist Paul Watzlawick said, a simple belief or attribution of certain meanings to perceptions can have a powerful effect on a person’s physical condition.

      If a chair does not call for the leg of part 1, it is because it does not have a perceptual system that perceives this damage and another reagent that helps it fight this ailment, pain. However, the ability to generate pain in a human leg is the same as that of the chair leg: none. We have a mind capable of speculating on possible dangers, and of activating defense mechanisms in the event of a perceived threat. A swallow, with a less developed and speculative intelligence, will never develop an SQM.

      The stigma of the psychological, without understanding what it is and how it works, makes it impossible to understand this type of disorder.

      How to treat this disorder?

      Brief strategic therapy is more than a psychological stream, it’s a school of thought dedicated to unraveling how humans relate to the world, to reality. Its basic principle is that the reality we perceive, including problems and pathologies, is the consequence of the interaction between each person and reality. So there are as many realities as there are people, not a real reality. He believes that disorders are dysfunctional ways of perceiving reality, which results in dysfunctional reactions. If we change the way we perceive, it also changes the way we react.

      The solution is to teach your body that this agent you are afraid of is not really dangerous.. Each avoidance (the star remedy prescribed for these patients) confirms to your body the danger of what is being avoided, increasing the perception of threat and perpetuating the disorder.

      The disorder exists and the suffering it causes too. The mistake is to believe that if there is no organ failure the body cannot cause these symptoms, denying the psychological without knowing what it is. The cause of SQM is dysfunctional threat perception, a psychological process. Your suffering begins here, and anything other than changing the perception that initiates the other reactions will put you in a bottomless pit.

      In short, the organicist vision which predominates nowadays implies a partial research incapable of leading to a global vision. They focus on the tree and cannot see the forest.

      The stigma surrounding the psychological, coupled with a profound misunderstanding of what this concept means, leads patients and healthcare professionals to ignore it, which is the key to understanding and resolving the disorder.

      There are few agents as harmful to health as tobacco, repeatedly inhaled deep in the lungs. It causes a lot of pain, but it is not perceived threateningly by our body, it does not trigger pain or tachycardia. It is accepted in our society.

      The more people talk about the disorder and the more it spreads, the more it will be affected. The more avoidance prescribed, the harder it will be for them to get out of the hell of SQM. One thing is the damage and another the reaction to it, a process of mental evaluation.

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