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Is Your House Making You Sick? Indoor Chemicals and the Depression Link!


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Depression is the most common psychological disorder in the US. Those who suffer from depression usually have physical and psychological symptoms, like insomnia and fatigue. Scientists agree that depression is linked to heredity, illness, certain medications, and pregnancy. Most patients experience at least some success with anti-depressant medication. However, more and more health professionals are acknowledging environmental and chemical triggers for depressive illness. In 1992, the EPA conducted a study in which the urine of 7,000 Americans was tested for toxic chemicals. Chemicals like pentachlorophenol, a wood preservative, were found in 71 percent of individuals tested. According to the EPA, exposure to toluene, the most common indoor chemical, may occur simply from breathing indoor air. Toluene toxicity in both humans and animals has been widely observed, and symptoms include chronic fatigue, sleepiness, headaches, and nausea.

Environmental and household chemicals have been linked to numerous illnesses, including; chronic fatigue, skin reactions, depression, low moods, allergic reactions, chronic infection, sinusitis, headaches, and sleeplessness. Strong chemicals are released from new homes, household paint, household cleaners, mold, new carpeting, termites, perfumes, and a slew of other common household items.

If the underlying cause of the depression is chemical exposure (or allergy-related), prescription medication will only offer temporary relief. The ideal would be to eliminate all environmental and health-related depression triggers, and see if depressive symptoms improve or disappear completely. Check the following environmental triggers and see if you can eliminate them from your life! Note: if you are currently taking medication for depression, NEVER discontinue medication without consulting your doctor. Quitting medication “cold turkey” is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted unless under direct advice of a physician.

MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) is a controversial diagnosis, and an active debate exists about its classification as an illness. MCS is described as an adverse reaction to low levels of common chemicals. MCS can also be caused by a major toxic event, such as a chemical spill. Some doctors refuse to accept MCS as a viable diagnosis for various reasons. However, chemical sensitivities do exist, and many individuals experience serious reactions from using common household cleaners, such as; bleach, ammonia, detergent, and fabric softeners. According to the Ohio State University Extension, sensitive individuals should try to limit their chemical exposure as much as possible. If you have recently:

•Moved to a new home
•Discovered mold in your home
•Started a new job (especially one with chemical exposure, such as a factory worker or painter)
•Installed new carpeting
•Sprayed for termites
•Sprayed your lawn for bugs or weeds

You may have reactions to these chemicals. If your symptoms are sudden, or the onset of fatigue, depression, headaches, etc, coincides with one of the events above, you may want to consider a possible chemical sensitivity.

Some common chemicals present in household items are:

Formaldehyde (carpet, particle board, insulation, adhesives)

Pesticides (bug sprays, lawn chemicals, and many household cleaners)
Solvents (household cleansers, paint, acetone)

Latex (paints, gloves, caulking)
Aerosols and chemical scents (air fresheners, perfumes, fabric softeners, detergents)

Reactions to these chemicals may be mild or severe. Usually, sufferers will complain of respiratory problems (allergies or trouble breathing), fatigue, depression, low energy, headaches, and joint pain. A combination of these symptoms is common. If you feel that you might have depressive symptoms related to low-grade chemical exposure, there are many easy steps you can take which may help alleviate your symptoms.
Here are 10 easy steps to help reduce chemicals in your home.

•Stop using all air fresheners, perfumes, and scented detergents and fabric softeners
•Switch to natural unscented soaps, unscented detergent and unscented (or “allergy”) fabric softeners
•Purchase a good room air filter, and filter-free vacuum
•Open all windows daily, and let air circulate inside your home—and try to go outside and enjoy some fresh air!
•If you have central heating/air, use the best filters you can afford—many of the better filters trap mold and dust mites, a leading cause of allergies
•Use all-natural cleaners, cosmetics, and creams
•Switch to natural fabrics, (cotton, wool, linen, silk, ramie and hemp) and discontinue all dry cleaning
•Always wash new clothing before wearing, especially dyed clothing. In the case of blue dyes, wash twice (blue dyes are more toxic for some individuals)
•If possible, remove carpeting and replace with wood or laminate flooring.
If you need to paint, wear a mask, and open all windows. After painting, try to leave the house for at least a day
•Discontinue use of all petroleum based products, especially in cosmetics, creams, or other topical treatments

Once again, avoid use of: air fresheners, alcohol, chemical cleaners/detergents, cosmetics, nail varnish, paint, newspapers/printed material, perfumes, petroleum products, solvents, and tobacco smoke. There are freely-available natural alternatives to chemical products. Try eliminating as many of these chemicals as you can, and see if you feel a reduction of symptoms. If you would like to help detoxify your body, you can try; mild exercise (walking outside), mild steam room and sauna use, an allergy diet (simple all-natural foods, check with your doctor). You may feel better within just a few weeks.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, US Department of Labor, Ohio State University Extension, Chemical Hazards Handbook, Environmental Protection

Christine P Silva, BA, CRTP, lives in California with her husband, two children, and three spoiled cats. She earned her undergraduate degree from San Jose State University, and her advanced accounting certificate and California tax registration from Cosumnes River College. She is the founder of the Sacramento Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinic, a free service offering tax assistance to low income and Spanish-speaking taxpayers.

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  • Posted On January 2, 2007
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