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Consumer Alert: Chemicals in Varnish and Paint May Increase MS Risk


Swedish researchers found that organic solvents in varnish, paint and other products can harm the nervous system. Their study showed exposure to the chemicals increased the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) by 50 percent. In people who carry the gene that makes them susceptible to the crippling nerve disorder, exposure raised the likelihood of developing MS seven times.

For smokers, the risk is much higher. People with the MS gene who had been smokers and incurred exposed to the solvents were at a 30-times higher risk than and those without the genetic risk factors who were nonsmokers and didn’t have exposure to the solvents.

“These are significant interactions where the factors have a much greater effect in combination than they do on their own,” said study author Anna Hedström of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. “More research is needed to understand how these factors interact to create this risk. It’s possible that exposure to solvents and smoking may both involve lung inflammation and irritation that leads to an immune reaction in the lungs.”

Researchers Recommend Avoiding Unnecessary Solvent Exposure and Smoking

The participants in the study published in the journal Neurology consisted of 2,042 people who had recently received a diagnosis of MS, along with a control group of 2,947 people of the same sex and age. Blood tests were used see if the individuals had either of two gene variants, one that raises the risk of MS and the other that reduces the risk. The participants were also asked if they had been exposed to varnish, painting products or organic solvents, as well as if they had ever been a smoker.

In the group of nonsmokers with neither of the MS genes and without solvent exposure, 139 had MS and 525 didn’t have the disease. In the group of nonsmokers with the MS genes and solvent exposure, 34 people had MS and 19 people didn’t have the disease. In the group of smokers with the MS genes and solvent exposure, 40 people had MS and five didn’t have the disease. The findings showed that the combination of MS genes and solvent exposure accounted for 60 percent of the likelihood of developing the disease.

“How this cocktail of MS genes, organic solvents and smoking contributes so significantly to MS risk warrants investigation,” said Gabriele C. DeLuca of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, in an accompanying editorial. “In the meantime, avoiding cigarette smoke and unnecessary exposure to organic solvents, particularly in combination with each other, would seem reasonable lifestyle changes people can take to reduce the risk of MS, especially in people with a family history of the disease.”

Multiple Sclerosis News Today reports that the disease afflicts 400,000 Americans and 2.5 million people worldwide. In MS, the immune system attacks the protective covering of nerve fibers, which causes poor communication between the brain and the rest of the body. As the disease progresses, the nerves can deteriorate and suffer permanent damage. MS has no cure.

Take Steps to Protect Yourself From Solvents

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Association, organic solvents are used in a wide range of products, in addition to varnishes, paints and paint removers. Aside from damage to the nervous system, their main effects include liver and kidney damage, in addition to cancer and reproductive problems such as sperm changes and infertility.

The Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health provides the following advisories to protect yourself:

  • Read the label of products before use, and follow any safety recommendations.
  • Instead of oil-based paints, use those that are water-based because they don’t require the use of solvent-containing thinners.
  • Solvents absorbed through the skin can be as harmful as those inhaled. When using these products, wear the type of gloves advocated by the instructions.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before smoking, eating or drinking.
  • When using solvents, limit your exposure as much as possible by using a small container and keeping the lid closed when not in use. Also, use a long-handled paint roller to prevent bringing the solvent close to your face.
  • Use products containing solvents only in an environment with fresh air.
  • To ensure safety, use a full respiratory protection program, which includes properly fitted respirators and worker training.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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