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Early life stress, negative paternal relationships, & chemical intolerance in middle-aged women: support for a neural sensitization model

  [ 84 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • November 3, 1998

This study (ntotal = 35) compared early life stress ratings,
parental relationships, and health status, notably orthostatic
blood pressures, of middle-aged women with low-level chemical
intolerance (CI group) and depression, depressives without CI
(DEP group), and normals. Environmental chemical intolerance
is a symptom of several controversial conditions in which
women are overrepresented, that is, sick building syndrome,
multiple chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and
fibromyalgia. Previous investigators have postulated that
people with CI have variants of somatization disorder,
depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) initiated by
childhood abuse or a toxic exposure event. One neurobehavioral
model for CI, somatization disorder, recurrent depression, and
PTSD is neural sensitization, that is, the progressive
amplification of host responses (e.g., behavioral,
neurochemical) to repeated intermittent stimuli (e.g., drugs,
chemicals, endogenous mediators, stressors). Females are more
vulnerable to sensitization than are males. Limbic and
mesolimbic pathways mediate central nervous system
sensitization. Although both CI and DEP groups had high levels
of life stress and past abuse, the CI group had the most
distant and weak paternal relationships and highest limbic
somatic dysfunction subscale scores. Only the CI group showed
sensitization of sitting blood pressures over sessions.
Together with prior evidence, these data are consistent with a
neural sensitization model for CI in certain women. The
findings may have implications for poorer long-term medical as
well as neuropsychiatric health outcomes of a subset of women
with CI. Subsequent research should test this model in
specific clinical diagnostic groups with CI.

Bell IR, Baldwin CM, Russek LG, Schwartz GE, Hardin EE

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