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Clinical Ecology: Stratagem for a Poisoned World

by Martin J Walker(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 8 - October 1995

The development of clinical ecology – the study of illness created by our surrounding environment – has been little different from the development of any social idea despite being a matter of health and therefore one of some urgency. New social forces and their actors create feelings of passion and commitment, both for and against. New ideas are disputed by those with both altruistic and mercenary motives. Progress, however, is like the statues which Michelangelo described as trapped within his blocks of marble; it will eventually be released.

The philosophy and practice of what is generically called clinical ecology assumes that the mechanical and chemical processes of the industrial revolution, the electrical and the nuclear age, have all had a deleterious effect upon the health of individuals and societies. This idea has met with more resistance than perhaps any other non-ideological philosophy. The basic demand of clinical ecology is, in fact, a radical one: that the industrial means of production be reorganised to suit the health of the whole of society.

The initially observed links between illness and industrialisation were fairly straightforward. The city of Salford, which abuts Manchester in Lancashire, used to have the highest rate of bronchitis in the world. Such health problems appeared relatively easy to resolve. There was a direct causal link between the smoke from Salford's many domestic and industrial chimneys and the lung disease. Over time, industrial processes changed, pressured and cajoled by campaigns and new laws, and aided by the change from fossil fuel to electricity. Decades after the problem was recognised, Manchester got 'clean' air.

Following the Second World War a movement of doctors and therapists grew up. They were mainly rooted in the fields of allergy and immunology, principally because it was these disciplines that dealt with the effect of ingested alien substances on the human being. These practitioners considered that singular illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumoconiosis and chronic complaints caused by inhaled pollen, dust and mites were only the tip of the submerged iceberg of illness caused by environmental factors.

The major body of twentieth century illnesses and their pathogens, it was thought, lay hidden beneath the surface of a general miasma of poor, but not necessarily ill, health. The movement which grew with these theories differed from previous medical movements in the way that its practitioners placed the emphasis upon a preventive approach to sustaining good health.

Clinical ecologists began to consider that a great many of the illnesses associated with a generally falling standard of health, from allergy to alopecia, migraine to eczema, from arthritis to stomach ulcers and including such serious illnesses as cancer, may be linked to the substances which we ingest voluntarily and involuntarily.

These doctors and therapists began to redraw the boundaries of 'the environment', until it included anything from the food taken by the pregnant mother, to the quality of the air at its furthest reaches. Consequently, clinical ecology developed as an internally diverse movement, which contained, amongst many practitioners, nutritionists, surgeons, allergists and paediatricians. They had, however, one central message in common: what was taken into the body by a number of means inevitably affected the balance of its internal ecology, and particularly its immune system.

That such ideas would meet with the most aggressive and determined resistance was inevitable. After two centuries of industrial development, there were those whose very lives, wealth and family heritage rested upon the science of productive industry. The power and identity of a whole class were vested in products as diverse as petrol and animal feed, products which clinical ecologists claimed were causing an erosion of health.

Clinical ecologists have been at the forefront of many significant contemporary battles over health, such issues as the dangers of lead in petrol and passive smoking. The part they have played has, however, been 'hidden from history' principally because they are insurgents struggling against an accepted and prevailing power which tends to record only its own history.

For many clinical ecologists, the chemical treatments of the pharmaceutical industry are yet one more aspect of a toxic environment. Allopathic medicine has taught us to see the many diseases of the twentieth century as diverse and not necessarily related to life-style or environmental causes. Allopathic medicine has also taught us that the symptoms of each illness may be treated separately. It has developed many site-specific chemicals to treat these symptoms and has tended to ignore the whole person and their environment.

It is now becoming clear that we ignore the whole person at our peril. At the heart of the human eco-system is the immune system, a self-regulating mechanism which protects the body from invasion. The human immune system is under attack as never before, as our bodies manifest a series of new and debilitating illnesses in addition to an increased incidence of old ones.

A Short History of Allergy Medicine

Unlike the history of 'scientific' medicine, which was developed principally in relation to the piece by piece discovery of human biology, the history of clinical ecology has relied much more upon the ad hoc subjective experiences of its practitioners.

The earliest discoveries about antigens entering the human body uninvited and creating allergic responses, focused mainly on food. Francois Magendie first created allergic symptoms in animals in 1839. He found that animals sensitised to egg white by injections died after a later injection.(1)

Dr Charles Blackley, who practised in Manchester in the 1870s, had hay fever. He covered slides with a sticky substance, left them outside and found that his symptoms were invariably at their worst on the days when the most pollen stuck to the slides.(2) He later scratched a tiny amount of pollen into his skin and found that it produced a red weal; when he tried this test on a number of patients, the weal only came up on those who suffered from hay fever. The first doctors to use injections of allergens – the substances which create allergic reactions – were Drs Noon and Freeman of St Mary's Hospital in London. In 1911 they found that injections of pollen temporarily cured those who suffered from the allergy.(3)

Dr Carl Prausnitz and D Heinz Kustner were allergic to different substances. Kustner suffered from an allergy to fish, the briefest taste of which would make his mouth swell. In 1921, these doctors injected themselves with small amounts of each other's blood and showed that sensitivity to particular substances could be passed from one person to another through blood serum.(4)

As early as 1925, when Dr Erwin Pulay published a book on eczema and urticaria,(5) doctors were making diagnoses of allergic responses in sensitised subjects, not only to foods, but to chemicals placed on the skin.

A lady consulted me regarding a long standing and painfully irritating eczema which had spread all over her body. When she first called, her eyes, ears and face were inflamed, the skin disfigured all over by scratches, and the patient felt her unpleasant condition acutely. Her eczema was diagnosed by the specialists as being of the nervous type, and its cause asserted to be unhappiness in her married life.

The conspicuous discoloration of the skin and the state of the finger nails allowed me to diagnose immediately that the eczema was due to nothing else than naphthalene, and investigations bore out this conclusion. It had originated as follows: the patient had rolled up three Persian rugs and strewn them with naphthalene. When she put naphthalene in her clothing during spring-cleaning, she was immediately attacked by severe inflammation of the skin. The carpets had sensitised her skin and she had become allergic to naphthalene.(6)

Even from this example, it can be seen that from the beginning, allopathic specialists were prepared to diagnose psychiatric and emotional causes for allergic responses, rather than carry out proper scientific investigations. Scientific proof of environmental illness has always been difficult. The human body with its infinitely complex and individualistic metabolism refuses to be generally classified. Apart from the most extreme invasions, which are likely to trigger similar responses in many people, ingested antigens affect people differently. The preconditions for an allergic response may vary from a fault in the body's metabolic pathways, of which six thousand have been recorded, to a previous, specifically induced, compromise of the immune system.

Between 1900 and 1930, a number of doctors observed and recorded allergic responses amongst themselves and their patients, particularly to high protein substances such as egg and milk. In 1921, Dr William Duke reported cases in which eggs, milk and wheat produced severe stomach upsets.

From the first recognition of allergy, doctors were in two minds about its meaning in relation to treatment. In the early part of the century, doctors restricted their search for antigens to a narrow field of common substances. They also restricted the symptomatic picture presented by allergy sufferers, to weals, swellings, itching and runny noses.

One of the first clinical ecologists, a British psychiatrist, Francis Hare, went much further. In 1905, he published The Food Factor in Disease.7 His research showed that far from being a simple equation between food and allergic response, allergy was a complex matter, sometimes dependent upon state of mind, which could result in degenerative diseases. Hare suggested that migraine, bronchitis, asthma, eczema, gastrointestinal disturbances, epilepsy, angina, high blood pressure, gout, arthritis and a number of other conditions were almost wholly the result of an intolerance to sugar and starch. Hare was not taken seriously by his contemporaries.

Dr Albert Rowe translated a French work by two Paris doctors, L'Anaphylaxie Alimentaire,8 in which they recorded all the available accounts of illnesses caused by food in France. Following this translation, Rowe began work with his own patients on their allergies. It was Rowe who first used systematic skin injections of allergens to produce reactions. He found such tests, however, to be ultimately unreliable and began to work on elimination diets.

Rowe's work was influential and his techniques were quoted as being good treatments for migraine, asthma, eczema, hives, chronic catarrh, persistent indigestion, ulcers of all kinds, period pains and a condition of tiredness known in the 1930s as 'allergic toxaemia, characterised by fatigue, nervousness, mental confusion and an aching of the body'.(9) Rowe was still practising in the early nineteen sixties in California, where he introduced a new generation of students and doctors from Europe and America to clinical ecology.

Dr Arthur Coca, a Professor at Cornell in the 1930s, was a founder of the Journal of Immunology. He researched a number of allergic responses to ingested substances. Many of these produced no outward signs, but did speed up the pulse, making the sufferer feel slightly unwell. His theories were not well received by the orthodox medical establishment. In one of his books, he complained:

The reason for it [the scepticism] is that the medical profession is again faced with scientific findings and their consequences that are so far out of line with settled concepts as apparently to represent the impossible.(10)

In the late thirties, Dr Herbert Rinkel, then practising as an allergist, himself had a severe allergic response. For years previously Dr Rinkel had suffered from recurrent fatigues, headaches and a distressing runny nose. After reading work by Rowe, Rinkel wondered if he were allergic. Suspecting that he was allergic to eggs, he ate six raw eggs at once. When they produced no reaction he thought that he had made a wrong diagnosis. Some years later, still suffering from chronic health problems, Rinkel decided to eliminate eggs completely from his diet. His symptoms began to fall away. But on his sixth egg-less day, his birthday, he took a bite of angel-food cake, containing egg, and crashed to the floor in a dead faint.

The experience led Rinkel to understand that some patients who showed symptoms of allergy might be ingesting a number of foods regularly and not know that they were causing an allergic response. He coined the phrase 'masked allergy'.

In 1944, Dr Rinkel met a young doctor called Theron G Randolph. Randolph was later to become one of the pioneers of American clinical ecology. After taking case histories of his apparently healthy students and nursing staff at the Northwestern University near Chicago, he came to the conclusion that two thirds of them had a history of food allergy. Randolph began to think that food allergy was also involved in alcoholism, and different forms of mental illness.

It was the careful detective work of Randolph which gave clinical ecologists their first real understanding of the fact that many chemicals, other than those occurring in foods, could cause illness akin to allergy. After four years' work, Randolph diagnosed a particular patient as being sensitive to petroleum exhaust fumes.

One conclusion reached before the Second World War about allergic responses was that they were person-specific. Different people are allergic to different allergens at different times. For this reason, is has always been easy for orthodox practitioners to suggest that such individually experienced symptoms do not have a scientifically measurable organic base.

The specificity of sensitisation to 'everyday' substances has presented particular problems to diagnostic practitioners, not least because patients themselves and observers will often be sceptical about a diagnosis for which they cannot see clear material causal reasons.

Over the last twenty years, a major schism has developed between those doctors who are willing to accept only food intolerance as a classic cause of allergy, and those who have developed the work of the early clinical ecologists.

The major difference between the groups is that for the orthodox allergists, the patient's response is a transitory disorder, caused when a substance which acts as an antigen enters the body. This discomfort passes when the antigen has left the body and the cells have stopped breaking down. Clinical ecologists, however, are convinced that many chemical antigens, though they may cause a primary allergic response, are not dispelled from the body but stay as continual irritants to the immune system, often lodged in fatty tissue. The illnesses which are consequent upon this toxic storage and the toll which it takes on the immune system, can be long-term. They also believe that once a person is sensitised to a substance, future exposure can lead to dangerous and debilitating illness.

Extracted from the book Dirty Medicine by Martin J Walker  [aka Martin Walker], revised edition 1994. Slingshot Publications, BM Box 8314, London WC1N 3XX. 733 pages £15 US $24.


Magendie, Francois, Phenomenes physiques de la vie. Paris: Bailliere, 1837-42.
Eagle, Robert. Eating and allergy. London: Futura, 1979.
Pulay, Erwin. Allergic man: susceptibility and hypersensitivity. London: Muller, 1942.
Hare, Francis. The food factor in disease. London: Longmans, 1905. Cited in Eagle, op. cit.
Laroche, Guy. Richet, Charles and Saint-Girons, Francois [L'Analphylaxis alimentaire]. Translated by Mildred P Rowe and Albert H Rowe. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1930. Cited in Ealge, op. cit.
Bray, George W. Recent advances in allergy. London: T & A Churchill. 1934. Cited in Eagle, op. cit.
Coca, Arthur. Familial non-reaginic food-allergy. Springfield, Ill: CC Thomas, 1943. Cited in Eagle, op. cit.


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About Martin J Walker

Martin Walker has been an activist, investigator, political poster artist and writer for most of his adult life. His twelve books, essays and articles and a large number of posters reflect an involvement in campaigns since the occupation of Hornsey College of Art, where he was a student in 1968. Those who want to read a more detailed history of his campaigning and writing, should read my biographical essay, Perilous Journey. Between writing and investigating he has designed and printed posters mainly for political community campaigns, worked for lawyers as an investigator and helped with the defence of those wrongly arrested and imprisoned. Apart from poster design he pursued his art training through ceramics, especially tile decoration and photography. He is personally interested in dissent in different professional fields, especially medicine and science and the complex decisions made by individuals who leave orthodoxy to enter the world of alternatives. On a broader level he is interested in how the growth of corporate power, capitalism and technology erodes individuality, individual choice and democracy. For the last twenty years his writing and investigating has been confined almost entirely to the field of corporate lobby groups involved in pharmaceutical marketing and the cover-up of adverse reactions. Please refer to his website for a more complete view of his campaign involvement.

Most recently between 2007 and 2011 he has reported, written essays and edited and published two books by parents about the adverse reactions caused to children given the MMR vaccination. He followed and wrote about the case of Dr Andrew Wakefield attending every day of the bogus three year trial organized by the General Medical Council.

Martin Walker's books, have been hegemonic, including SKEWED: Psychiatric hegemony and the manufacture of mental illness in Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Gulf War Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, HRT: Licenced to Kill and MaimDirty Medicine and Dirty Medicine The Handbook, available from  and Amazon . He is a prolific activist on Facebook


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