MCS – Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Report from Denmark

Hi, my name is Mette Toft. I’m 53 years old, married and blessed with two grown-up children. I have a university degree (MA) in Japanese and Danish and was teaching these languages, at universities and language schools, for many years. Inspired by my diligent students, I even came up with a new, simple way of teaching Danish pronunciation and had teaching material for students and teachers published. I always thought I hated phonetics, but this project was great fun!

Increasingly, though, I had health problems that no doctor could explain: headaches, rashes, fatigue and malaise.

Perfume allergy, MCS and lupus

In 1999 a patch test showed that I was highly allergic to perfume. My dermatologist told me to take this very seriously. If not, it might progress to a point where I couldn’t be in the same room with people who were wearing perfume, she explained. From that day on, our home was completely fragrance free. At work, however, and everywhere else I went, I was still surrounded by perfume and scented products of all kinds. So, alas, the dermatologist’s prediction came true, with a vengeance.

In 2005 I became seriously ill with what turned out to be MCS and lupus (a really troublesome and potentially fatal autoimmune disease) – simultaneously. It soon became clear that I would have to stop working. Nevertheless, for four years, I was denied any kind of social benefits. This is a pretty common practice in Denmark, I’m sorry to say.

A happy happening in a sad setting

Here I would like to tell you about our MCS-happening in the heart of Copenhagen on 12 May, The International MCS Awareness Day, and, not least, about the sad setting of this cheerful event.

In Denmark, as in many other countries, MCS is not yet recognised as a true physical disease caused by chemicals. The Danish National Board of Health maintains that MCS is not a disease, but a “situation” where people “believe” or “feel” that various airborne chemicals are making them ill. Accordingly, MCS patients are sometimes referred to psychiatrists to be misdiagnosed with a psychiatric diagnosis, typically “somatoform disorder”, which means “all in the head”.

The Danish Research Center for Chemical Sensitivities on the lookout for ”psychological factors” in MCS patients

In 2006 The Danish Research Centre for Chemical Sensitivities was established on the initiative of the Danish Ministry of the Environment. It soon became evident that the purpose of this research center was to have the environment acquitted, so to speak, of the charge of causing MCS. Time and again patients heard the then Head of Research, MD, PhD Jesper Elberling announce that the environment should probably not be blaimed for the problems.

The Research Center has no experts of toxicology or environmental medicine among its staff. Instead, the new Head of Research, former nurse, MSc, PhD Sine Skovbjerg and her staff focus on counting and documenting various ”psychological factors” among patients. Her view is that MCS should be studied as a somatoform disorder and that MCS can be cured by so-called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

Which psychological factors do you have? – None. I have MCS.

Shocking news about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a treatment for MCS

I think it is fair to say that the international MCS community was shocked when the aforementioned Jesper Elberling published an article in which he concluded that: “Electroconvulsive therapy should be considered an option in severe and socially disabling MCS…”. Elberling has elsewhere stated that: “If the observations concerning ECT are correct, then it means that we can be VERY (sic) optimistic about a future treatment for MCS”. Obviously, not many Danish MCS patients share this view.

An abstract of the article and international reactions to it is found at Canary Report:

Psychiatrists propose induced convulsions as treatment for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Counter action

In an attempt to cheer ourselves up a bit in the midst of this depressing madness, we decided to celebrate The International MCS Awareness Day on May 12 with a colourful and festive happening in the heart of Copenhagen.

Unfortunately, the rain was pouring down all day long and a few of our attractions – a couple of spectacular canary costumes among them – had to be left out of the programme and saved for a hopefully sunnier MCS Awareness Day next year. Our MCS-lottery and free samples of fragrance free skin cremes did appeal to quite a lot of people, though, and each and everyone of them took a copy of our information sheet and MCS-folder home to read.

A student who had decided to do a paper on MCS came early to ask questions. And one concerned politician (of the 60 or so who were invited) dropped by for a serious chat.

Author: Mette Toft, Denmark

© Photos: Torben Bøjstrup

Further Reports about the Situation of MCS Patients in different Countries:

8 Responses to “MCS – Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Report from Denmark”

  1. Monique van den Broek 13. August 2010 um 10:28

    Hi Mette,

    Thanks for sharing your story. It is a real shock for me reading that psychs think MCS will be cured by elektroshocks. As if we do not suffer enough from elektrosmog!~
    Keep fighting Mette, we all are, worldwide. Do not give up, please follow your own instict that is wordlwide the same among MCS people: avoid chemicals and live as healthy as you can.

    Take care! Hugs from Monique

  2. Jennifer Jacobs 14. August 2010 um 02:22

    Hi Mette,
    I am also shocked to hear this news. I guess I thought other countries were further ahead than Australia but it seems just breaks my heart to think of the suffering going on around the world, not only human beings, but animals to. We must stay strong and continue to educate.
    Take care,
    Fellow canary,

  3. Harry Clark 14. August 2010 um 10:09

    HI Mette,
    thankyou for sharing your important news from Denmark. i have heard of the MCS isntitte in Denmark but could not figure out what it was really doing. thankyou for clarifying its agenda, it upsets me to think so much money and authority is put into an institute to follow such an unscientific agenda. Please keep us updated from time to time on your important work.
    Harry Clark
    MCS News Australia
    MCS Society of Australia

  4. Connie Rae 14. August 2010 um 16:12

    Thanks, Mette, for sharing with us…though the rain kept some costumes away, it may have been a blessing for you. Rain always cleans the air for me…so maybe that is why it rained??? I will pray and pray that you and your fellow MCS Canaries will keep out of the clutches of those that would inflict more harm on you in the name of helping. Blessings and hope as you continue to do battle for peace and education….Connie

  5. RN JD NCSN 14. August 2010 um 17:04

    This is absolutely disgusting.
    However, as a health professional in the US, I have encountered the same degree of ignorance and arrogance among (RN and MD) co-workers.

    The cdc however is breaking the ice with its workplace policy on fragrances. Hopefully the US as well as the rest of the world will wake up to this very real illness. There is a plethora of scientific proof if you take off the blinders.

  6. Galaxie 19. August 2010 um 15:30

    es ist doch furchtbar, hier hat Prof. D. Klaus Dörner u.a. auf Weltkongressen u.a. im CCH Hamburg über die Entpsychiatriesierung gesprochen was sogennante psychisch Kranke und geschädigte betrifft und wir haben auf den Nürnberger Kodex von 1945 hingewiesen, aber hier ist ja wieder ein Beispiel und unterschwellig hat sich ja nichts geändert. Selbst zeigen Filme wie von 1975 Einer flog über das Kuckucksnest mit Jack Nicholson und Bücher, wie Der Höllentrip u.a. das ganz deutlich. Es werden noch immer Menschen die anders sind oder werden psychiatrisiert und verwahrt und gequält bis zum Tode. Elektroschocks sind wieder seit anfang der 90er modern und in geworden. Ich muß da auch an Prof. Dr. Hippus denken, wovon es wohl genug Nachahmer gibt.


  7. rhonda 4. October 2010 um 00:36

    hi I am some what getting on top of MCS but in my journey alone the way I can tell you one thing for sure we don’t have mental illness. We are the strongest people mentality around around we have just lost ourselves a wee bit. you know you give a computer a virus it does not work probably same as us we get overloaded and short circuit our body’s need help to get back on track. I am sorry but they should get there f..k heads out of the sand and stop putting us in the too hard bucket I am getting my brain back and myself back but its been a hard lonely road that we have to travel and it breaks my heart that so many people kill them selves from despair along the way and I know how easy it would be to do that. We need help I would not treat my animals the way we get treated. I am sorry but I am getting pretty raw about this the better I get the more I realize this is real and a problem. they just have to wake up

  8. Melva Smith 1. July 2011 um 00:45

    I decided to share a story I wrote that was printed in E-Parent Magazine and contains a link at the bottom asking the Olympics to go scent-free. Please read the comments in the center of the article by Dr. Pall who has found MCS to be caused by chemicals that have altered the DNA.
    First printed in E-Parent Magazine.
    Making Multiple Chemical Sensitivity a Household Word.
    By: Melva Gail Smith

    Having severe Asthma and trying to maintain a social life isn’t easy, but when you add the disability of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity to the combination, the challenges become even tougher. As a dancer with both Asthma and MCS, I was forced to give up the sport for 15 years before finding a group of line dancers that were considerate enough to cut back on wearing chemically scented products which trigger reactions in both conditions. Dance had always been a part of my healthy life style, and I often practiced Ballroom Dancing 4 or 5 days a week, participated in showcases, and had entertained at a nursing home and mall. Just as my young life seemed to be taking off, illness struck; making it impossible for me to be around scented products that were unfortunately heavily associated with the glamour of dancing. Having to give it up entirely was emotionally devastating to me as it had always been my life’s passion. Anyone who has lost a significant part of their life’s enjoyment due to disability barriers can certainly relate to the sudden traumatic impact it can have. The experience was so gut wrenching that it was impossible to watch a movie with dancing in it without bursting into a flood of tears. The next 15 years were lived with only memories of better times, as without dance; life suddenly lost it’s spark. Knowing the uplifting emotional benefits dancing has, one of my doctors suggested that I search and keep on searching until I found a place I could dance at without having immediate major reactions. It was during a time of trial that a friend persisted to suggest places I might go. Despite the risks, I agreed to meet them at Dancin’ Nuts, a local line dance group, where many of the dancers soon become considerate of my condition. The day that I began to take classes again was so uplifting that it was like experiencing a rebirth, and I never quit going back. It didn’t take long for me to realize that there were other dancers there who had the same disability and had found it to be a somewhat more MCS friendly environment. What I didn’t know at the time was that there was going to be a silver lining to my story, as I was about to be given the unique opportunity to participate in a MCS awareness campaign that would span across the globe.

    When I heard dance choreographer Ira Weisburd was collecting videos from around the world for The Flash Mob Project and would be splicing them together into one large documentary film, I wanted to participate. I had never been in a flash mob before and it sounded like a lot of fun. A group called The Nuts and Honey’s Dance Club, that also produces a TV show by the same name on Insight Channel 98; was going to record the Kentucky segment. They were asking for dancers from the Louisville and Southern Indiana area to meet at a festival to perform Ira Weisburds line dance “Shuffle Boogie Soul,” to the song “Honky Tonk,” by Preston Shannon. Everyone was learning the steps, and it was a really exciting time for me. Getting to the film site was a challenge in itself, as it was filmed near one of Louisville’s more polluted industrial areas. This fact almost kept me from going, but I managed to get to the site and through the dance despite having both immediate and delayed reactions that went unnoticed by others.

    After the video was submitted, Ira asked dancers to share any special stories they had associated with the project, and these were posted on a website next to the video’s. When my story posted next to the Kentucky video, so many e-mails were received from around the world inquiring about the condition; that Ira created the Breathe Freely Campaign to create an awareness about MCS and perhaps promote a more breathe freely attitude. An instructor in California e-mailed the story to his entire class, as one of his students also had it. It was incredibally wonderful to see this information shared with others, and the seldom heard of MCS becoming a household word. Being in the Flash Mob Project is one of the most uplifting and significant high points of my life, and the MCS community is fortunate to have someone like Ira create the much needed campaign; which continues to generate an awareness of this disabling and often misunderstood condition.

    For those who have never heard of MCS, it is the inability of the body to readily detoxify and eliminate chemicals found in the everyday environment. These chemicals then go on to store in the liver, brain and fatty tissues of the body. Patients often detect and react adversly to very small amounts of toxins that may go unnoticed by healthy people. According to an article by Dr. Martin Pall that was published in the 3rd edition of “General and Applied Toxicology”, pages 2303-2352: chemicals can actually start a biochemical vicious cycle that makes us something like 1000 times more sensitive to these same types of chemicals . People carrying certain forms of genes that have roles in detoxifying these chemicals are often much more susceptible to this chemical sensitivity known as MCS. Unfortunately, MCS is a socially isolating condition with symptoms that can be triggered by everyday products such as lawn spray, pesticides, cleaning products, chemically scented products and a polluted environment. It can involve the respiratory and central nervous system, create musculoskeletal and digestive problems, as well as cause cognitive impairment just to name a few. With reactions ranging from memory loss and confusion to muscle weakness and pain, it can become so severe that it makes it near impossible for the patient to participate in any meaningful activity. Unlike Asthma, there are no medications to help prevent an attack. In fact, many people with MCS become homebound and live on a daily basis with chronic fatigue and other disabling symptoms. Those with a severe case can become homeless and unable to tolorate standard building material and home furnishings. Total avoidance of environmental triggers and wearing a face mask are the most common methods used to help manage it.

    Pall, who is Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences at Washington State University has given dozens of scientific talks on MCS in seven countries around the world. He states that the diverse different types of chemicals implicated in MCS all appear to be able to produce a similar toxic response in the body, too much activity of certain receptors in the body known as NMDA receptors. “We have, now a detailed mechanism for how this leads to the stunning chemical sensitivity known as MCS. There have been many claims that MCS is a psychological response, but we know now that this is false. It is a biochemical and physiological response of the body to chemical exposure” Pall states.

    Asthma on the other hand is a different story in that there are medications on the market that can help prevent attacks, or stop one once it has started. While Asthma can be exercise induced, an aerobic workout can also be beneficial as it enables the lung to receive oxygen that is then transported to the blood and circulated throughout the body. One form of exercise that helps improve lung function in this manner is dance. It doesn’t matter if it is Ballroom, Zumba, or Line Dancing, as long as it is fast enough for one to reach an aerobic state. According to the National Lung and Blood Institute, “Aerobic activity makes your heart beat faster than usual. You also breathe harder during this type of activity. Over time, regular aerobic activity makes your heart stronger and able to work better.” Strenuous dance can actually double blood volume and oxygen to the brain as well as strengthen bones in both the hips and legs.

    Everyone should be given the equal opportunity to participate in dance. The many benefits of dancing has been well documented and includes but is not limited to: increased circulation, enhanced mood, improved range of motion, increased confidence, weight loss, lower risk of cornary disease, increased HDL, and the joy of social contact. “Dancing is one of the healthiest hobbies you can have.” Ira Weisburd said when asked about it’s health benefits. “I have been teaching seniors for more than 30 years and I can tell you that it has added years to their lives. I have several students in their 90′s and they are living proof that dancing prolongs life,” Ira said. To read more about The Flash Mob Project and the Breathe Freely Campaign, go to
    After the writing of this article I started a petition, asking the Olympic committee to make the Olympics and their affiliated organizations scent-free. This should include ballroom dancing and open up classrooms for many who find scented products a disability barrier. To view, sign and pass the petition on to others, visit

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