Patterns of waking EEG spectral power in chemically intolerant individuals during repeated chemical exposures

Iris R. Bell, Michael J. Szarek, Dina R. Dicenso, Carol M. Baldwin, Gary E. Schwartz, Richard R. Bootzin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Previous studies indicate that low level chemical intolerance (CI) is a symptom of several different controversial conditions with neuropsychiatric features, e.g., chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity, and 'Persian Gulf Syndrome'. Prior studies suggest that limbic and/or mesolimbic sensitization may contribute to development of CI. The purpose of this report was to document the waking electroencephalographic (EEG) patterns of individuals with CI during chemical exposures presented over repeated sessions. Three groups of adult subjects who were recruited from the community participated in the study: self-reported CI who had made associated lifestyle changes due to their intolerance (CI/ LSC), self-reported CI who had not made such changes (CI), and normal controls without self-reported CI. Subjects underwent two sessions involving one-minute EEG recordings during exposures to low level chemical odors (a probe for limbic activation). The CI, but not the CI/ LSC, subjects had increased absolute delta power after the chemical exposures during the second, but not the first, session. The findings support the neural sensitization hypothesis for intolerance to low levels of environmental chemicals in vulnerable individuals. As in human studies of stimulant drug sensitization, those with the strongest past history with sensitizing agents may not show-term sensitization to low level exposures in the laboratory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-59
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1999


  • Chemical intolerance
  • Delta
  • Limbic
  • Sensitization
  • Spectral power
  • Temporal-parietal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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