Heavy Metals and Autism

Posted on Nov 30, 2008 in Autism

Looking at the extreme rise in the incidence of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) since the mid 1980’s, one can only conclude that an epidemic is in progress that cannot be explained by “genetic factors” or anything else except environment. One such factor under suspicion is mercury toxicity. Apparently, some children are genetically predisposed (see MT system below) to excess vulnerability to mercury. Cumulative exposures from maternal amalgams, Rhogam shots for Rh incompatibility, seafood, and especially mercury-containing vaccinations take them beyond their tolerance point and intoneurotoxic symptoms affecting the brain, therefore disturbing their psychosocial development. Fully 50% of autistic children have mothers who are Rh negative, and who received the heavily mercury laden Rhogam shots during pregnancy. Only a small percent of normal children have Rh negative mothers. Many of these children were perfectly normal prior to a particular vaccination series, and in fact, many of them can be perfectly normal again after treatment.

Our management of autistic kids begins with a careful history, including possible sources of heavy metal exposure. Testing may include mineral, fatty acid, and amino and organic acid evaluations, liver detox assessment, Candida antibodies, food allergy, and stool examination. Hair analyses characteristically show very LOW levels of mercury in these children compared to normals because they ‘retain’ and are unable to clear mercury out of body tissues like the brain. Autistic patients are also thought to be burdened with defective metallothionein (MT) proteins which normally regulate copper, zinc, heavy metals, gluten and casein digestion, and neuronal development. Elevated copper/zinc ratios are characteristic of ASD, but recently it has also become possible to measure MT proteins in red blood cells directly. Clinical reports already suggest that every autistic child tests low on MT protein, and all of the classic features of autism can indeed result from a genetically weakened MT system. Gastrointestinal dysfunction from metal toxicity may prevent these patients from breaking down dietary protein into required amino acids needed for MT protein synthesis, and from maintaining normal intestinal flora. Since MT is directly involved in the neuronal maturation of the brain, the timing of any environmental insults is critically important, and calls attention once again to the vaccination and maternal amalgam issues.

Treatment of autism takes into account the emerging theory that ASD is a disease of metal oxidative stress with predisposing/permissive factors being the weak MT system in all, and the presence of higher levels of testosterone in male children. Testosterone seems to potentiate the adverse effect of MT weakness on the brain, and may account for the 4 to 1 ratio of males to females diagnosed with ASD. When environmental insults such as mercury in vaccines or from mothers’ amalgams or diet occur, brain maturation ceases. The theory is that ASD patients do not have a damaged brain, but rather one that has not completely matured. Treatment is directed at removing ongoing environmental sources of heavy metals, chelating out existing tissue stores of heavy metals, supporting liver detoxification, preloading with zinc and augmenting nutrients, and then gradual introduction of MT promoting nutrients. Support of the patient’s antioxidant buffering capacity with oral and intravenous nutrients, including glutathione, and attention to repair of the lipid containing cell membranes with phosphatidyl choline are also very helpful. In essence, treatment involves the process of detoxification of the central nervous system, and nutritional support for a weak MT protein and antioxidant buffering system.

Our new knowledge is opening up some opportunities for preventing ASD. Women contemplating pregnancy should have all amalgam fillings removed, and severely limit mercury tainted sea food in their diet. If they are found to be heavily mercury toxic, they should also undergo chelation therapy to clear body burden of mercury. Mercury has quietly been taken out of Rhogam by the manufacturer, but prior stocks of this mercury containing vaccine have NOT been recalled. Thus, even today it is possible for an Rh negative pregnant woman to receive heavy dosing of mercury through Rhogam injections if she doesn’t inquire about the issue. Then, as I have been recommending for 20 years, vaccinations should be delayed, if not avoided. Finally, pregnancy is a time when the mother’s health should be as excellent as possible, and her nutritional status needs to be exceptional as well.

At Caring Medical and elsewhere we have seen many cases of ASD that are being described as complete reversal of all symptoms of autism under aggressive nutrition/natural medicine based management. Spurred by parent activism, practitioner commitment and dedication, and innovative organizational support, progress in understanding and treating autism has come from the power inherent in the integrative model of medical care. A new light is dawning on the mystery of autism.