Being On “Tilt”
When I began to physically react to smells that are imperceptible and un-bothersome to most, I started to scratch my head with confusion. Was I mutating? Yes, I’d developed super nasal powers years ago after a near death experience (more on that later), but never before in my 43 years had I been perturbed by a waiter leaning down to refill my glass of water. His mainstream cologne was offensive. He may as well have punched me. I certainly wanted to punch him.
In Los Angeles I manage to live a relatively toxin-free life. But in unfamiliar Greece, the poisons I encountered were out of my control. Here are some of the wacky encounters that made me fear I was becoming a bubble girl.
- I was speed walking through the polluted city center of Athens, when I found myself repeatedly bristling at the vexing smell of car exhaust. As I held my breath and covered my nose with my tank top, my gaze fell upon a toddler in a stroller across the street. He was completely unfazed, as was his mother. In fact, no one else in the streets seemed to be disturbed by the smells. How could this be? Later, when I researched the air quality in the region, I learned that I was actually detecting and reacting to high concentrations of toxic particles, as well as photochemical smog linked to excessive nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and organic nitrates.
- While doing the dishes with Fairy, a bright green, liquid dishwashing detergent by Proctor and Gamble, my eyes watered and I got a headache. How do people use this crap?When I researched the ingredients, I discovered things like sodium laureth sulphate, 1,3-Cyclohexanedimethanamine, PPG (polypropylene glycols), and Dimethyl aminoethyl methecrylate/hydroxyproply acrylate copolymer cirate. These nasty ingredients that you can’t pronounce, let alone assimilate are toxic and even carcinogenic. On the lighter side, they cause irritation to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes.
- Walking past the local newsstand of the small Greek village of 400 where I am currently residing, I found myself shaking my head to aerate my nostrils at the smell of newsprint. Wtf? It was overwhelming. Again, no one else flinched. Just for kicks, I googled “Is newsprint toxic?”While many printers have moved toward vegetable based inks over the last 30 years, some newspapers still use petro-chemical substances. Certainly this was the case in Greece.
I concluded that I’ve ironically become a veritable environmental indicator, just like the honeybees I’ve studied and documented for nearly 10 years.
Today, I can see things with my nose that most of you cannot even detect.
In essence, I’ve become allergic to the 21st century.
Navigating A “Tilt-ed” World
My list of sensitivities was getting longer and longer. But why? As I meditated over my predicament, I recalled SAFE, a movie I had seen more than a decade ago, starring Julianne Moore. In the film, Moore plays Carol, a suburban California housewife whose life deteriorates under the stress of “environmental illnesses”.
She develops unpredictable and strange reactions to her surroundings, such as persistent fatigue, uncontrollable coughing (when surrounded by truck exhaust while driving), asthma-like symptoms (at a baby shower), nose bleeds (when getting a perm at a hair salon), vomiting, and convulsions (at the dry cleaners). Eventually Carol has to live a sequestered life somewhere in the woods amid New Agers.
Shit, was I becoming a freak like Carol?
Common sensitivities include smoke, pesticides, plastics, synthetic fabrics, scented products, petroleum products, and paints. When chemically intolerant patients first came to the attention of the medical profession in the 1980s, their condition was called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), and there was enough curiosity to spark studies.
“But those studies never turned up anything definitive, and nobody thought to look at the actual processing going on in the brain,” writes Jill Neimark in a piece titled Extreme Chemical Sensitivity Makes Sufferers Allergic to Life.
A study conducted in 2004 estimated that the national average for those afflicted with chemical sensitivities affect anywhere from 12 percent to 15 percent of the population. Women complain of MCS significantly more often than men, and most patients are 30 to 50 years old at time of diagnosis. Previous studies have also shown that persons meeting various criteria for MCS have higher rates of autoimmune conditions.
In the two decades since the release of SAFE, a growing body of biological evidence explains why there are those who wince and suffer, while others don’t react at all.
As we’ve written about extensively on HoneyColony, we live amid a vast array of synthetic chemicals – in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the products we apply to our skin. Many of these chemicals are derived from oil, coal, and gas, and were introduced during World War II when chemical companies, such as Monsanto, wielded toxic weapons like DDT and soon began waging its War on Bugs.
“Over this same time, a new disease process has emerged that is as novel as these modern chemical compounds,” writes Claudia S Miller, MD, MS, an allergist/immunologist and tenured Professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA). Miller is responsible for discovering “TILT,” or “Toxicant-induced Loss of Tolerance.” (MCS is now often referred to as TILT.)
TILT, Miller writes, is a “process that starts with a chemical exposure, such as in a ‘sick building,’ after a chemical spill, or a pesticide exposure. These exposures can cause susceptible individuals to lose their tolerance for many substances that never bothered them previously and do not bother most people.”
I thought back to an afternoon five years ago when I was inadvertently sprayed with insecticides. I was in the Dominican Republic, ironically at an environmental film festival showcasing my documentary film Vanishing of the Bees.
I was enjoying the last day at the beach before heading to the event. Someone was using a damn leaf blower. Or so I thought. I rushed outside to ask him to turn it off. The man turned to face me. I noticed a pack on his back. He was wearing a full-on industrial respirator (albeit no other protection.) He wasn’t blowing leaves; he was fumigating against mosquitoes between our condo and the one next door.
But it was too late. It was windy and I was assaulted by a waft of poison. I screamed.
Exposures result in a bewildering variety of symptoms such as cardiac and neurological abnormalities, headaches, bladder disturbances, asthma, depression, anxiety, gut problems, impaired cognitive ability, and sleep disorders.
A few months later, I lost all my strength. I couldn’t even climb a flight of stairs. I was 36 years old. Suspecting it was my thyroid, I went to a rheumatoid specialist to run tests, only to be told I had markers for the autoimmune conditions lupus and fibromyalgia.
Super Nasal Powers In A NoseBlind Society
A robust immune system allows you to handle stress, or fight off viruses, or properly detoxify from the onslaught of toxins you are subjected to everyday. Honeybees need a strong immune system as well to ward off the parasitic Varroa Mite and other viruses, and to withstand the stress of being trucked around from monoculture to monoculture. However, systemic pesticides and other poisons have whittled their systems down. Suddenly, they cannot handle what they normally could.
A single incident can trigger enduring trauma. In my case, the fumigation was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back. In 2002, I experienced a near death experience when I was walking across an intersection and a Ford Explorer traveling 30 miles per hour struck me, dragging me 49 feet. Since that moment my body has been in a seemingly permanent state of fight or flight.
When I awoke at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, I noticed that my olfactory senses had magnified. I could suddenly detect the harshness of the orderly before he even entered my room. He was a disharmonious blend of Tide, CK Cologne, and nicotine. And I too stank of antiseptics, oil from my dirty hair, and over-bleached sheets.
Later, an energetic healer informed me that when I skidded along the pavement and broke my tailbone, my root chakra, located at the base of the spine between the anus and genitals, got rocked, altering my sense of smell.
“Our brains are exquisitely primed to respond to nasal receptors. Not surprisingly, even healthy individuals show significant changes in brain wave activity during brief exposures to olfactory stimuli that are actually below the sensory threshold and not even consciously perceived,” writes Jill Neimark of Discovery Magazine.
Therefore toxicants travel straight into the brain via the olfactory receptors – nasal neurons that number in the many millions– thickly studding the inner lining of the nose.
Olfactory pathways are one of the key discernment points for sustaining everyday life. When we smell flowers in bloom, we trigger a positive-hormone cascade within seconds that expands our fields and opens our eyes. When we detect synthetic poisons we release stress hormones that alert us to potential danger.
As my olfactory pathways have gotten more refined, it seems that much of the population’s has gotten duller.
It’s called being ‘noseblind.’ This is what accounts for you being oblivious to the odors in your own home, but why guests can detect that your place actually smells like a litter box.
“When you first are exposed to a smell, the odorant molecules waft through your nose and hit your odor receptors, which then send signals to your olfactory bulb in the brain’s limbic system, which is associated with emotion and behavior,” explains Pamela Dalton a cognitive psychologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center. “There, your brain identifies the odor and decides what to do about it. But very quickly — after just about two breaths — the receptors in your nose sort of switch off,” Dalton adds, and the intensity of the smell starts to fade.
Modern chemistry has normalized poisons to the point where they override our bodily cues, explains researcher Farsam Shadab, founder of InterEnactive.com & CrossHealing.com. When we continuously expose ourselves to scents that are tolerable but toxic, like fragrances found in air fresheners or laundry soaps, for instance, we entrain our nervous systems to adapt by making numbness the new normal.
“Poisoning our breathing environments is the shortest paths to our brains, bloodstreams, and nervous systems… it will take decades to change this system of conditioned insanity… where the first step to becoming civilized seems to be to disassociate people from their primal, neurological connection to the natural world,” adds Shadab.
The TILTed individual says Miller “is like a fireplace after the original fire has died down: The embers still glow a brilliant orange, ready to burst into flame with the slightest assistance.”
As it turns out, us folks can become more reactive over time, until we respond adversely to a mere whiff of laundry detergent or a passing 18 wheeler.
“The triggering substances are often structurally unrelated and range from airborne molecules to ordinary drugs and supplements, lotions, detergents, soaps, newsprint, and once-cherished foods like chocolate, pizza, or beer,” adds Neimark of Discovery Magazine.
Since every person is different, it’s difficult to parse cause and effect, and western medical doctors often tell sufferers that it’s all in their heads or chalk them up as being neurotic. But in fact the brain’s processing has been altered so that the neurological set point for sensitivity falls.
“The lack of a blood-brain barrier in the olfactory system allows chemicals direct access to the limbic system,” says Miller. “And the olfactory pathways are already known to be particularly susceptible to electrical and chemical kindling. Moreover, most chemical exposures are intermittent, which is the kind of exposure known to potentiate kindling and sensitization.”
Intermittent lower-dose exposures can be as toxic as a single higher-dose exposure.
Meanwhile, getting sick upon toxicant exposure and failing to get well may be driven by epigenetic changes, which occur when the environment alters the expression of genes without changing the core DNA code itself. “Environmental events can dramatically impact gene activity,” explains reproductive endocrinologist Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Treatment: A Life Altering Condition
When reactions are severe, those afflicted are often forced into a complete overhaul of their lifestyle. But there is hope. If you suspect you may be a Tilted individual, take Miller’s QEESI test, which has been used by researchers and doctors internationally.
According to more recent studies, TILT is not necessarily related to the amount of chemicals in your body as once thought, but rather how well your body can buffer itself against those chemicals and eliminate them. Therefore detoxification and the avoidance of toxins is vital. In my case, I do loads to help bolster my body and immune system.
Astoundingly, in 2010, one scientist reported a single case study where electroshock therapy (ECT) actually put severe chemical intolerances in remission. Holistic remedies are much less invasive and drastic.
- Avoid triggers, if at all possible
- Revamp your lifestyle to include real organic food, products without toxins
- Drink hot water with freshly squeezed lemon first thing in the morning. This helps kickstart the digestion process for the day. Lemon juice is not only a digestive aid but a liver cleanser.
- Increase your vitamin D levels and omega-3 fatty acids
- Increase your level of glutathione, the body’s a master antioxidant. Most people with autoimmune conditions or TILT have sluggish livers and so need help to detoxify. Keeping glutathione levels sufficient is easier than you think, and you can start at your next meal. Foods that improve levels are those rich in sulfur, such as broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, garlic, onions, and scallions.
- Take nutrients that support glutathione activity including N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, selenium, milk thistle (silymarin), cordyceps, gotu kola, and S-acetyl-glutathione (a stabilized, more absorbable form of glutathione). Unfortunately, you cannot gain much from taking straight glutathione as it is not absorbed well when taken orally. Find a practitioner to administer it intravenously (find a practitioner) or explore nasal spray via a compounding pharmacy, and coffee enemas. (The palmitic acid in caffeine increases the activity of glutathione S-transferase (GST) by 600 percent in the liver and a 700 percent increase in detoxification in the small intestine.
- Up your dose of liposomal vitamin C. Vitamin C has powerful antioxidant properties that protect against the oxidative stress against the cell.
- Get a home air filtration system to purify the air you breathe and limit toxins entering your body
- Really try to minimize an influx of stress
This documentary emphasizes the importance of making our workplaces safer for those who suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), so that they can remain productive members of the workforce.