The search for reliable biomarkers of disease in multiple chemical sensitivity and other environmental intolerances

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Jul;8(7):2770-97. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8072770. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


Whilst facing a worldwide fast increase of food and environmental allergies, the medical community is also confronted with another inhomogeneous group of environment-associated disabling conditions, including multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, electric hypersensitivity, amalgam disease and others. These share the features of poly-symptomatic multi-organ cutaneous and systemic manifestations, with postulated inherited/acquired impaired metabolism of chemical/physical/nutritional xenobiotics, triggering adverse reactions at exposure levels far below toxicologically-relevant values, often in the absence of clear-cut allergologic and/or immunologic involvement. Due to the lack of proven pathogenic mechanisms generating measurable disease biomarkers, these environmental hypersensitivities are generally ignored by sanitary and social systems, as psychogenic or "medically unexplained symptoms". The uncontrolled application of diagnostic and treatment protocols not corresponding to acceptable levels of validation, safety, and clinical efficacy, to a steadily increasing number of patients demanding assistance, occurs in many countries in the absence of evidence-based guidelines. Here we revise available information supporting the organic nature of these clinical conditions. Following intense research on gene polymorphisms of phase I/II detoxification enzyme genes, so far statistically inconclusive, epigenetic and metabolic factors are under investigation, in particular free radical/antioxidant homeostasis disturbances. The finding of relevant alterations of catalase, glutathione-transferase and peroxidase detoxifying activities significantly correlating with clinical manifestations of MCS, has recently registered some progress towards the identification of reliable biomarkers of disease onset, progression, and treatment outcomes.

Keywords: amalgam toxicity; chronic fatigue; detoxification; disease biomarkers; electric hypersensitivity; environmental intolerances; environmental medicine; fibromyalgia; multiple chemical sensitivity; oxidative damage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Dental Amalgam / toxicity
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects
  • Environmental Illness / diagnosis*
  • Environmental Illness / epidemiology
  • Environmental Illness / etiology
  • Environmental Illness / therapy
  • Fibromyalgia / diagnosis
  • Fibromyalgia / epidemiology
  • Fibromyalgia / etiology
  • Fibromyalgia / therapy
  • Genetic Markers*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / etiology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / therapy
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / diagnosis*
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / epidemiology
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / etiology
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / therapy
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / etiology
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / therapy
  • Sex Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Genetic Markers
  • Dental Amalgam