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Autism and Chelation Therapy

Within the last few years, issues have been raised about the treatment of autism with chelation therapy. Chelation therapy has been used for many years on autistic children; in 2005, however, a young boy suffered cardiac arrest and died after having chelation therapy. Critics protested using this method of treatment, calling it "quackery" and "unproven" and dismissed parents who had authorized use of this treatment as "grasping for straws."

Defenders of this methodology were quickly able to refute the accusations cast at them by other members of the medical community. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report concerning this event, attributing the boy's death to a drug error. According to the report, this treatment is harmless when properly administered, but the death was a result of a drug error. During the therapy, Disodium EDTA was used, instead of Calcium Disodium EDTA. These substances look identical. Dr. Mary Jean Brown, the author of the report, says that the boy's death was, "without a doubt," caused by this tragic error. In spite of this official word, none of the doctors who criticized the methodology retracted their harsh denunciation of chelation therapy.

What Is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder of the brain that begins before a child is three years old. The common behaviors associated with autism are difficulties with communication and social interaction and restricted, repeated behaviors such as rocking. There are various types of autism, from children who do not seem to have any connection to the outside world to children who are capable of things like learning, but not interacting with others. This milder form of autism is called Asperger syndrome.

It is believed that autism is frequently a matter of heredity, but they have yet to discover why. It certainly shows up in genetic lines. However, others believe there may be some correlation between pediatric vaccines or complications with other things that may be causes of birth defects.

Others say that there is some correlation between autism and environmental factors, and they base this assumption on the fact that there are a substantial number of cases reported in specific geographical locations. California, state-wide, has reported a large number of cases, as has Brick Township, New Jersey. There seem to be far more cases of autism now than there were previously, or perhaps, some surmise, there are just more cases now that have been diagnosed. Others say, however, that it's unlikely that the capable physicians of previous generations would have failed to notice such an alarming condition in a child, and there are clearly more cases now than ever before; it's estimated that one out of every 250 children will receive that diagnosis.

Why Is Chelation Therapy Used In the Treatment of Autism?

The argument for environmental causes is very strongly supported by the fact that the symptoms of autism are identical to the symptoms for mercury poisoning. It is believed that the combination of a genetic predisposition, mixed with environmental factors, may be the key to the problem. Many case studies note a distinct improvement in symptoms of autism when at least some of the mercury can be removed from the patient's body. This is done through the process of chelation. Many in the medical profession believe that the increase in diagnoses for autism is simply the result of higher levels of mercury in the foods we eat.

Within the last two years, a case was documented of a child who refused to eat anything except tuna sandwiches and showed an increasing and remarkable decline in cognitive functioning. Also within the last few years, dangerous mercury levels in the ocean have been identified, and people have been warned about the danger of eating too much fish. Tuna, in particular, has been identified as one of the species that is most apt to hold high levels of mercury. When the child's mother stopped feeding the child tuna sandwiches, he returned again to normal cognitive functions.

Clinically, the process of chelation is used. This is a simple process that involves the administering of chelating agents that remove heavy metals from the body. Mercury is one heavy metal treated with this process, and others are lead and arsenic. In the United States, this is most commonly done using Dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA), or 2,3-dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid (DMPS), or alpha lipoic acid (ALA). Other countries have had equal success with other chelating agents, which have yet to pass the FDA tests. Each of these substances creates chemical bonds with the ions in the heavy metals, making them less chemically reactive. The water soluble results of these chemical bonds permits the mercury or other heavy metals to enter the bloodstream and be excreted from the body.

They all function by making several chemical bonds with metal ions, thus rendering them much less chemically reactive. The resulting complex is water soluble, allowing it to enter the bloodstream and be excreted harmlessly.

Chelation Therapy and the Medical Community

Attitudes towards chelation therapy vary. Some conservative doctors classify this highly scientific modality as a form of alternative medicine. Both alternative practitioners and mainstream western doctors use this treatment. Typically, doctors who consider chelation therapy too far removed from standard practice will instead put children diagnosed with autism on a program of psychiatric drugs, often with two kinds at the same time. This option, proponents of chelation therapy argue, is simply adding more toxicity to the child's body. Furthermore, these doctors say there have been no studies done on the effects of combinations of psychiatric drugs, whereas there have been thousands of documented trials of chelation therapy, all with positive results; the only death was accidental.

One of the problems with diagnosing mercury poisoning, as opposed to autism, is that mercury is detectable in the blood for a very limited time, perhaps for a few months. Mercury can attach to enzymes and proteins in the brain, liver, kidneys and other parts of the body, where it remains fairly undetectable. If testing is done for mercury, it only registers if the exposure was recent. Although there will be no evidence of major concentrations of mercury in the body, nonetheless, the patient can have a high degree of mercury toxicity. While blood tests may reveal mercury poisoning soon after it occurs, it requires a different type of test to identify it later. Fortunately, there are several tests that perform this function.

Members of the medical establishment who believe that mercury poisoning is the root of the autism "epidemic" are concerned with the numbers of ways in which children are exposed to mercury from inception on. Some feel it may be transmitted from mother to child in utero, as it may come through the mother's dental amalgams, be absorbed into the blood stream, and from there into the fetus. Infants are injected with vaccines containing thimersol, which is composed of nearly half ethyl-mercury. Of course mercury is prevalent in the ecosystem, in the water supply and the foods we derive from it. What still needs to be determined is why some infants show signs of cognitive impairment and others don't.

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