bed-890579_1920Is memory foam stealing your memory or worse? Memory foam seems to be all the rage in bedding and pillows these days.

I prefer sleeping on feathers myself, but I have been wondering about what kind of mattress I’ll buy next.

Memory foam seems to be popular so I’ve wondered about its safety.

Recently, I had a couple of new clients come to me with rather serious diagnoses.  They were siblings with very different diagnoses, but the same living environment.  They both became sick in the same month and year.  I knew we had to explore environmental toxins.

When we did an inventory of the environment, we found lots of possibilities for problems.  Just before getting sick, the siblings lost two close family members causing emotional stress.  The emotional burden was followed by the physical burden of toxins brought into the home in the form of laminate flooring, new cabinets, and memory foam pillows.  There was also mold in the home.

The toxic materials in memory foam pillows are stabilized in the factory supposedly making them safe.  However, according to the CDC and various government agencies, some people are experiencing severe symptoms including poor memory, hormone disruption, asthma, and neurological issues.   The chart that follows is information that can be found on the internet regarding the materials used to make memory foam.  We don’t know exactly what is in a particular memory foam product because manufactures are not required to divulge that information.  It is considered proprietary information.

Chemical Symptoms of exposure.
Polyurethane Irritation of nose, throat, lungs, shortness of breath, sore throat, coughing, tightness of chest, asthma, irritation of skin, sensitization, cardiac arrhythmia, blurred/foggy vision, irritation of mucous membranes, difficulty breathing, potential carcinogen
Formaldehyde Watery eyes, burning of eyes, nose, throat, coughing, wheezing, nausea, skin irritation, differing levels of reactions.  Known carcinogen.
PBDE Collection in adipose tissue/milk, possible thyroid issues, liver, high concentrations may cause neurobehavioral and immune system alterations in animals, possible carcinogen
Polyols Can cause gastrointestinal problems (gas, laxative effect)
Diisocyanates Respiratory problems, asthma, carcinogen, irritants for mucous membranes of eyes, gastrointestinal and respiratory tracks, skin contact causes inflammation, can cause bronchitis with bronchospasm (severe), hypersensitivity pneumonitis
Volatile Organic Compounds Short-term—eye, nose, throat, irritation, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, worsening of asthma, visual disorder, fatigue, loss of coordination, allergic skin reactions, memory impairment.  Long term-cancer, liver, kidney damage, CNS damage.
CFC’s Safe for humans.  Bad for the environment
HFCs Little threat, mildly toxic, carcinogenic in large quantities, bad for environment
Methylene dianiline Skin irritation, liver damage, jaundice, flu-like symptoms, possible eye damage and thyroid damage, possible carcinogen, weakness, pain
Vinilideine Irritated eyes, skin, throat, dizziness, headache, nausea, difficulty breathing, liver, kidney disturbances, pneumonitis, possible carcinogen
Toluene (aka methyl benzene) Skin, eye irritation, acute toxicity if inhaled, damages reproduction or unborn children in pregnant women, widespread organ damage, nervous system, tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunkenness-like behavior, memory loss, nausea, hearing, color vision loss, may permanently damage brain
Dimethyl formamide Abdominal pain, anorexia, incoordination, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, nose, skin irritation, hepatic impairment, alcohol intolerance, liver damage
Acetone Nose, throat, eye irritation, headaches, lightheadedness, confusion, increased pulse rate, effects on blood, nausea, vomiting, shortened menstruation, unconsciousness, coma, skin contact, skin damage, irritation, respiratory, eye irritation, kidney, liver, nerve damage from long-term effects
Methylene chloride Potential carcinogen, post harvest fumigant for grains, high exposure leads to death.  CNS effects-visual, auditory, psychomotor ability decrease, nose, throat irritation (acute), headaches, dizziness, memory loss, nausea, CNS effects, liver, kidneys, cardio
Tetrachloroethylene Likely to be carcinogenic, acute dizziness, drowsiness, headache, incoordination, unconsciousness, death.  Chronic mood, memory, attention reactions, time, vision changes.  Animal studies show liver, kidney, brain chemical effects
Chlorinated Tris Flame retardant, mutagenic, male reproduction effects, kidney and testes tumors in rats, neurotoxin to brain cells
Modacrylic fiber Antimony trioxide, ocular conjunctivitis, rash, pustules around sweat/sebaceous, respiratory effects, alterations in pulmonary function, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, inactive TB, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal disorders, possible menstrual effects
Decabromodiphenyl oxide Form of PBDE, thyroid hormone disruption, neurotoxicity, carcinogenic


The above information comes from the following sources: OSHASpraypolyurethane.orgAmerican Chemistry CouncilNational Cancer InstituteWorld Health OrganizationEnvironmental Protection AgencyAgency for Toxic Substances and Disease RegistryPolyols.orgCalorie Control CouncilMinnesota Dept of HealthNational Institutes of HealthNational Oceanic Atmospheric AgencyScottish Environmental Protection Agency, Centers of Disease ControlNIOSH,,

I don’t believe everyone or even most people will have a problem with memory foam pillows.  However, if you or someone you love is having unexplained and possibly sudden health concerns, its worth looking at what is happening in life and the environment.

In the case of my clients, the concept of total load comes into play.  The emotional and physical demands on the body became too much for the body to handle and disease manifested.  In the total load concept, we think of the body as an empty bucket that has been placed under a leaky faucet.  It can drip for days, weeks, or years, but eventually, the bucket will fill up and water will begin to overflow.  It is the overflowing that is the symptomology of clinical or sub clinical disease.

While nutritionists don’t diagnose or treat disease, we do look at the total load on the body and work to reduce the load and support health on a foundational level.  We do that by removing what is removable.  In this case, the pillows could easily be removed and the mold could be killed.  The source of moisture can be addressed.  The house can be opened up to allow for off gassing of the flooring and cabinets.

The next step is to provide the body with evidence based  key nutrients specific to individual disease states.  Then, we support the detoxification pathways. We ensure adequate protein, minerals, vitamins, and nutrients known to support detoxification.

Finally, lifestyle changes to support rest, relaxation, and stress management are recommended.

Total wellness takes a holistic approach.  Taking this approach helps to empty the bucket reducing the total load.

In terms of memory foam, I’ll pass.  I don’t want to add to my total load.