I make it a personal mission to live my life as toxin-free as I can. High toxic loads aren’t good for any of us…even more so if you’re struggling with autoimmune disease.

Could you have chemical intolerance? What next?
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For anyone with autoimmune issues, chemicals and heavy metals seem to be both the cause and effect. Research published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology shows that approximately 20 per cent of healthy people demonstrate an immune reactivity to chemicals. This essentially means the body flags chemicals to the immune system, which in turn fights to destroy those toxic compounds.

Introducing chemical intolerance

Over time, if the toxic load is too heavy and your immune system starts struggling to fight the toxic compounds, this may trigger an autoimmune process known as chemical intolerance.

Chemical intolerance usually evolves in two stages.

  • In the first stage, the body’s natural ability to tolerate chemicals and toxins is gradually broken down.
  • In the second stage, an ordinary exposure to an environmental compound (traffic exhaust, perfume, a drug, or other chemicals) suddenly triggers an immune response.

This can manifest itself as an intolerance or severe sensitivity to:

In my next post on the matter I will chat about the sensitive issue of dealing with these sensitivities.

Chemical intolerance can also lead to:

  • multiple food sensitivities
  • constant skin outbreaks and rashes
  • asthma, migraines, depression, fatigue, brain fog, memory loss
  • neurological dysfunction
  • and, oh yeah, a flare up of any of your usual AI symptoms (this is where the double-edge sword comes in!).

How can toxin exposure result in autoimmunity?

To be honest, the levels of toxins and heavy metals present aren’t the biggest issue. What really counts is how your immune system is reacting to these compounds.

When we are exposed to chemicals, they bind to our body’s tissue proteins creating antigens, which are basically red flags for the immune system to produce antibodies against the chemical, tagging it for destruction. Some of us then have an immune reaction to the chemical bound to the protein (which the immune system now recognizes as an antigen) triggering an autoimmune process.

Are you vulnerable to chemical intolerance?

Not all of us react to everyday chemicals with autoimmunity but there are some factors that make you more prone to be affected.

  • Leaky gut. Glutathione, is the body’s master antioxidant and is responsible for good gut health. When glutathione levels are depleted, the abdominal lining is weakened and the likely consequence is a leaky gut. When the gut is not right your immune system is not up to scratch either, which makes you more likely to have an immune reaction to everyday chemicals.
  • Damaged liver detox pathways. The liver removes toxins from our bodies in two stages using different nutrients at each of these stages. If we’re lacking certain nutrients in our diet (B Vitamins, Folic Acid, Magnesium, Flavonoid etc.) the liver detox pathways are not working properly, which can significantly add to overall toxic build up, which can trigger chemical intolerance.
  • Chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a major predisposing factor in loss of immune barrier integrity, and poor regulatory T-cell function, which all leads to chemical tolerance. Sound familiar, AI folk?
  • Chronic stress. Stress breaks down the gut and brain barriers, creating an insufficiency of immune regulatory T-cells, leading to chemical intolerance.

I should flag all of the above result from and can cause autoimmune disease. Add chemical intolerance to the mix and, well, around and around we go. Right?

What can you do?

It’s impossible to completely avoid environmental chemicals and heavy metals but you can make significant changes to avoid symptom flares, or a worsening of your condition.

  1. Detox your home. I’ve written quite a bit on this, including sharing some ideas for natural cleaning products.
  2. Detox your makeup bag. Here’s how you can switch to toxin-free cosmetics. And use oils in your beauty routine.
  3. Heal your gut. Here, some very simple tricks for looking after your gut:
  1. Try meditation. Here’s details of my preferred meditation technique.
  2. There’s also chelation. Chelation works by pulling heavy metals out of body tissue and redistributing them… but often they make their way into the brain, promoting toxicity and inflammation. Research has shown that if you have autoimmunity and you undergo chelation you could make a bad situation much worse due to the fact your system just ain’t equipped for good detoxing. This was certainly my experience when I tried it a few years back. It was ugly. And my doctors and I decided I was better off leaving the toxins in my cells…for now. (Please note: ALWAYS do this kind of experimentation with the support of your medical team.)

Do you suffer from chemical intolerances? How do they affect you? Share your experience or tips below…

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Naomi

    After recognising my own chemical sensitivities I cleared out my own life, got rid of the toxic cosmetics, cleaning products etc as another step on my path to wellness. As a whole my health has improve immensely, but one thing I cannot protect myself from is other peoples perfume. That stuff is toxic and should be illegal. Sometimes just waiting to cross the road becomes treacherous, when standing next to a highly perfumed individual, my eyes start to water, my face gets itchy and my lips start to tingle. Horrible stuff.

  • Kristine

    Thanks for writing about this. I am 26, have Crohn’s disease and know all to well about the cycle of chemical intolerances being treated with chemicals. I have been off all biological medications for almost a month now and am working to rid my diet of artificial ingredients. Unfortunately, I’m stuck in this situation where I know I need to rid my body of chemicals, but am too exhausted/in pain from my AI condition that doing anything other than working 8 hours a day is almost impossible. So overwhelming, but I know it is the right path and will be worth the effort once I see results. Having my energy back would be a dream. I feel like I’m trapped in a 80 year old body.

  • Naomi Webb

    I’m an artist, and despite being really sensitive to chemicals and having a low-tox house and life for many years, I switched across to acrylic paints for a while. I absolutely loved what I could do with them, and really didn’t stop to think about what they were made of (sounds so dumb looking back now). It was a while of nausea, muscle aches, shaking, and a heavy brain fog and tiredness after working in my studio that I put two and two together. I have found Vipassana meditation really good for reducing and managing extreme physical reactions to chemicals, which helps in environments that I can’t control.

  • Melanie Wilson

    Sarah, a couple of weeks back you mentioned a couple of fake tan products that you have used. I can’t find the post anywhere. Could you please let me know the names as really want to have some colour this summer (can’t rely on the weather as live in England, but also can’t sit out in in for long as it gives me migraines) I really want to use something that isn’t quite so bad for you as other products. Thanks so much. Mel x

  • JB

    For years I have been trying to convince people that I am “a canary in a coal mine” but it is such a shocking, confronting thought to them that they either dismiss it and continue on their toxic ways or they attack me and accuse me of “over-reacting” or “being a troublemaker” or “making it up”. Why a person would put oneself ‘out there’ to make a fuss about this unless it was a real concern, I don’t know…
    Those room deodorisers (and insect repellents too) in public places that periodically squirt out chemicals without warning are horrible and dangerous. Why don’t people ‘get’ that they are bad news?

    • Amelia Hill

      Hi JB,

      Thank you for speaking up about your chemical sensitivity. I understand the opposition & disbelief that is often encountered from others.

      But I do believe that it’s important to find the courage to share your experiences, because the more stories of chemical intolerance out there, the less it can be ignored.

      This is a real & disabling illness which urgently needs greater understanding, research & community awareness/support.

      Sending all my best to you on your healing journey.

      Kind regards,
      Amelia

  • Jo

    Thanks Sarah? have you heard of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome? It is a newly recognised disorder/disease, the hallmark of which is multisystem illness from environmental triggers (amongst others) often people are diagnosed with a number of illnesses including multiple chemical sensitivity…Google Dr Afrin mast cell activation syndrome, he has some informative papers on it. The more awareness we can raise the better.