Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome - history
(For information on current cases go to our Updates and New Cases page.)
Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome was first recognized in 1989 in New Mexico. Three women sought medical help for a mysterious, undiagnosable condition whose symptoms were marked by debilitating muscle pain and a high Eosinophilia count (a type of white blood cell that is usually found when a toxin or parasitic infection is present). It was eventually discovered that all of the women had one thing in common: they had been taking L-tryptophan, a health food supplement sold as a sleep aid.
The tainted product was traced back to Showa Denko Inc, a Japanese company, that had been cutting corners in their purification procedure to reduce their manufacturing costs. Additionally, they were experimenting with genetically engineered bacteria in order to accelerate and increase the efficiency of their production process. As a result, contaminated batches of L-tryptophan were placed on the market. Within three months, 37 people died and over 1500 were permanently disabled from using this product.
By early 1990, officers of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of all over the counter L-tryptophan dietary supplements because it was found to be the common link in the EMS cases. Research was conducted to discover the cause of this illness. By using high performance liquid chromatography, an unidentified impurity, called "peak E" was found in batches of L-T as well as nearly 60 other contaminants. These batches were traced back to one manufacturer, Showa Denko KK (SDKK), one of Japan's largest petrochemical companies.
Both the CDC and the FDA agreed that considering the amount of L-T manufactured by Showa Denko KK, which had been sold from 1988 to 1989, there are potentially several times the original 1,500 reported cases.However, there are still no medical tests to diagnose this incurable illness. Hence many doctors shrug off victims' complaints and attribute their symptoms to fibromyalgia (a chronic condition also involving acute muscle pain not verifiable by laboratory tests), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Lupus, Arthritis, Fasciitis, and other auto-immune or neuromuscular disorders with similar symptoms.
Those of us who were poisoned by L-tryptophan continue to suffer a host of maladies and live each day of our lives in pain. According to the 1992 FDA bulletin, there is evidence that "non-epidemic" cases were occurring for months to years prior to the sudden increase in incidence, which peaked in October 1989. We suspect there are many other over-looked victims still out there. We'd like to help.
The National Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome Network, Inc., is a non-profit (501 C-3) organization dedicated to helping EMS survivors and their families by offering educational information and peer support.
NEMSN is also committed to encouraging research to improve treatment for L-tryptophan induced EMS and to increasing awareness of the cause and effects of the disease and other similar auto-immune disorders.