Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chelation Therapy and Autism: Thinking Rationally

If one applies a bit of critical thought to the claims that chelation therapy will “cure” autism, the augments of advocates fall apart very quickly.

Think About the Advertising Claims

First and foremost, a number of web sites advocating chelation therapy (CT) for use with childhood diagnoses of autism make frighteningly unreasonable claims about its safety as a medical procedure. This should throw up a number of red flags at first glance.

From the first few links that appear when “chelation therapy” is googled one can see a number of these unreasonable claims (and I’m not cherry-picking, I’m taking the first few advocacy sites that came up, you can easily check up on me using Google):

From http://www.drcranton.com/chelation.htm: (Site references CT for use in heart patients, not autism, but is making very similar claims.):

“How Chelation Works Remains a Mystery” – but you’re going to use it on heart patients anyways? If you don’t know how it works, how do you know the treatment is actually having an effect, rather than some other unrelated process or some additional treatment the patient is taking?

“Chelation Research is All Positive, There is No Negative Data” – This is simply unreasonable and untrue. Any effective procedure is going to have some negative contraindication at some point. Think about it, there is even negative data about something as benign as taking one aspirin a day as part of a heart regimen, and even very simple treatments may not work effectively on some people’s conditions.

“If Chelation Therapy is so Good Why is it Not More Widely Accepted?” - If you care to read this section of the site, you can observe the author going into paroxysms about how there’s a vast conspiracy in the medical field to suppress treatments that have not been researched using double-blind testing. Of course, when you’re comfortable stating that how your treatment works is a mystery, one wouldn’t be very surprised that you’d object to it being tested. Scare-mongering about the rest of the “oppressive” medical field is a typical quack response.

In the interest of space I’m not going to continue further, but please look out for claims such as these, and especially others touting any therapy as “100% safe” or a “guaranteed cure.” NO treatment strong enough to be effective, or that even utilized a needle stuck in your body at some point is “100% safe.” Even a simple saline drip has potential complications. THINK about it when someone makes these claims. What else are they expecting you to ignore? No treatment is a “guaranteed cure.” Especially for a complex neurological disorder such as autism. The only thing it is absolutely guaranteed to do is separate you from your money.

Think About the Treatment Process:

Chelation therapy as advocated for the treatment of autism typically involves administering an IV drip of one of several chemicals such as DMSA, DMPS, ALA or EDTA, over several sittings or several days. These chemicals may also be administered orally or intramuscularly, but I’ve seen most advocates using CT for autism recommending IV administration.

This therapy is commonly used to treat acute heavy metal poisoning in children and adults. Without going into a lot of biochemistry, the administered chemical binds to heavy metal molecules in the body, changing it into a water-soluble form that is able to pass into the bloodstream and exit the body through the kidneys.

This treatment WILL NOT fix neurological or organ damage that has already occurred! The only thing it will do is remove existing heavy metals from the body, with some degree of success. There are various side effects, ranging from mild headache, stomach upset, etc. to rare cases of kidney toxicity. There are reports of at least one child having died from complications of CT.

The rationale for using CT in autism cases revolves around the unsupported theory that autism is caused by exposure to mercury through a preservative (Thimerosal) which was commonly used in childhood vaccinations. At the suggestion of the FDA, thimerosal was removed from the majority of childhood vaccines as of 1999, although no evidence of it causing amounts of mercury above safety guidelines in infants was ever found.

Even some advocates of CT for autism will admit that there are no measurable amounts of mercury or other heavy metals found in laboratory tests of autistic children’s blood or urine, though I did find one advocacy site claiming that mercury would bind to internal organs and could only be detected by biopsy. Of course, an autistic child could definitely be exposed to mercury secondarily in their environment, and eating some seafood may raise mercury to detectable levels.

1. CT is a treatment, with side effects and potential complications, used for removing heavy metals from the body in cases of acute poisoning.
2. CT will not repair existing damage caused by heavy metal poisoning, only assuage further damage.
3. Autistic children typically do not have measurable amounts of heavy metals on blood or urine testing.
4. Potential exposure through vaccinations is unsupported, and extremely unlikely after 1999.

In my opinion, this leads me to believe that the use of CT for autism is basically the useless introduction of a non-indicated medical treatment in order to separate the parents of autistic children from their money.

Unfortunately these irresponsible practitioners prey on the feelings of parent who are so willing to do anything to help their children. What worries me the most is the instances where CT for autism advocates also suggest or demand that parents discontinue conventional medical or psychiatric treatments to ensure that CT is effective. I see that practice as the equivalent of telling someone not to have their broken nose set at the hospital, since you’re going to give them a coffee enema that should fix everything right up.

I encourage anyone with an autistic child to think very critically before utilizing any treatment being touted as a “cure” or that references heavy metal poisoning or toxicity. If anything, discuss these treatments with your primary physician, and have laboratory screenings for heavy metals done in their office, so you can compare any future results obtained by CT advocates.


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