Time-dependent sensitization of plasma beta-endorphin in community elderly with self-reported environmental chemical odor intolerance

Iris R. Bell, Richard R. Bootzin, Thomas P. Davis, Vincent Hau, Cheryl Ritenbaugh, Kathleen A. Johnson, Gary E. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


This study examined plasma beta-endorphin as a marker of the physiological stress response in community elderly who were either high (n = 15) or low (n = 15) in self-rated frequency of illness from environmental chemical odors. Individuals who report nonatopic multiple sensitivities to or intolerances for low levels of environmental chemicals also claim high rates of comorbid food sensitivities or intolerances. Subjects gave 9 AM blood samples for plasma beta-endorphin 90 min after ingesting either 1% fat cow's milk or a soy-based nondairy drink, on six different mornings in the laboratory after all-night sleep recordings. The six sessions were divided into three sets of two successive days each, with each set [involving baseline (ad lib milk), nondairy (soy-based), and dairy diets] separated from the next by 3 weeks. In the chemically tolerant subjects, stably lower beta-endorphin levels suggested that milk may have been a physiologically less stressful beverage than was the soy drink. In contrast, the chemical odor intolerant group exhibited a) increased levels of plasma beta-endorphin averaged over the 6 days (p = .02); and b) marked fluctuations in endorphin from one laboratory day to the next (Group x Diet x Day interaction, p = .005). The findings were consistent with time-dependent, context-dependent sensitization of beta-endorphin in the chemical odor intolerant individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134-143
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 1996


  • cacosmia
  • chemical odor intolerance
  • environmental stressors
  • food
  • habituation
  • plasma beta-endorphin
  • time-dependent sensitization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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