The study, done at two Texas family medicine practices, screened patients for symptoms of "chemical intolerance," also known as multiple chemical sensitivity.
Of 81 patients with chemical intolerance, 85 percent reported having symptoms of major depression in the past month. Another 78 percent had symptoms of an anxiety disorder. That compared with 33 percent and 21 percent, respectively, among patients free of chemical intolerance.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the mental health problems caused the chemical sensitivities, according to Katerndahl.
"We don't know why this association exists," he said. It's possible, for example, that some people have an underlying vulnerability to both mental health disorders and chemical sensitivities.
Or, Katerndahl said, some people might become depressed or anxious because of their chemical intolerance symptoms - which can include headaches, dizziness, upset stomach or breathing problems.
Of the 81 study patients who screened positive for chemical intolerance, one-quarter had previously been diagnosed with it, Katerndahl's team found.
That suggests the problem "often goes unrecognized," the researchers report in the Annals of Family Medicine.
According to Katerndahl, doctors might want to screen for chemical sensitivities in certain situations, such as when patients complain they can't seem to tolerate a range of medications.
"If you can figure out if you're sensitive to certain chemicals," Katerndahl said, "then you can try to engineer your life to avoid them."
And if you think you're overly sensitive to certain chemicals and your regular doctor cannot help, he added, you might want to get a referral to an allergist.
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