Differential resting quantitative electroencephalographic alpha patterns in women with environmental chemical intolerance, depressives, and normals

Iris R. Bell, Gary E. Schwartz, Elizabeth E. Hardin, Carol M. Baldwin, John P. Kline

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Background: Previous research suggests that a subset of individuals with intolerance to low levels of environmental chemicals have increased levels of premorbid and/or comorbid psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and somatization. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the psychological profiles and quantitative electoencephalographic (qEEG) profiles at baseline of women with and without chemical intolerance (CI). Methods: Participants were middle-aged women who reported illness from the odor of common chemicals (CI, n = 14), depressives without such intolerances (D, n = 10), and normal controls (N, n =11). They completed a set of psychological scales and underwent two separate qEEG recording laboratory sessions spaced 1 week apart, at the same time of day for each subject. Results: CI were similar to D with increased lifetime histories of physician-diagnosed depression (71% vs. 100%), Symptom Checklist 90 (revised) (SCL-90-R) somatization scores, Barsky Somatic Symptom Amplification, and perceived life stressfulness, although D had more distress than either CI or N on several other SCL-90-R subscales. CI scored significantly higher on the McLean Limbic Symptom Checklist somatic symptom subscale than did either D or N. On qEEG, CI exhibited significantly greater overall resting absolute alpha activity with eyes closed, especially at the parietal midline site (Pz), and increased (sensitized) frontal alpha from session 1 to 2, in contrast with the D and N groups. D showed right frontal asymmetry in both sessions, in comparison with CI. Conclusions: The data indicate that CI with affective distress diverge from both D without chemical intolerance and N in qEEG alpha patterns at resting baseline. Although CI descriptively resemble D with increased psychological distress, the CI's greater alpha suggests the possibility of a) central nervous system hypo-, not hyper-, activation; and/or b) an overlap with EEG alpha patterns of persons with positive family histories of alcoholism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)376-388
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 1998


  • Arousal
  • Attention
  • Chemical odor intolerance
  • Depression
  • EEG alpha
  • Frontal asymmetry
  • Multiple chemical sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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