Iconoclasts Anonymous

Inane ravings of an irreverent slacker

A new study on mercury/autism…

Posted by Jeff on July 28, 2008

So, the July 17 issue of Nature published an article by Meredith Wadman on a new study planned by the US National Institute of Mental Health to investigate the alleged link between mercury in vaccines and autism in children. The article, which can be found here, is critical and well-written but can only be viewed with a subscription to Nature. Luckily I’ll be providing a synopsis with non-expert commentary…

Basically, the NIMH has won approval from the FDA to test dimercaptosuccinic acid(DMSA), a chelation agent, on autistic children between the ages of 4 and 10. The trial is still under ethics review and many people are (rightly) critical of the procedure. This experiment is planned in response to the growing concern by parents (with no medical training) over the idea that mercury in childhood vaccinations is what is responsible for autism.

A little about chelation therapy (from the article): “Because chelators bind indescriminately to metal ions, they can deplete the body of essential metals such as copper, zinc, selenium, and calcium. In Portersville, PA, in 2005, a 5-year-old boy with autism died from cardiac arrest after being injected with a chelation agent.”

In regards to this study, the American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that there is “no justification for giving children DMSA in the absence of very high levels of heavy-metal exposure.” It is obvious that the only reason that this is even being considered is because the NIMH is pandering to a group of people who hold a very irrational belief and apparently too much influence. There is no documented link between mercury and autism, and even if there were, chelation therapy would not cure the condition. In fact, because the mercury damage is permanent, all chelation would do (providing the subject survives) is stop it from getting worse. Keep in mind that this is a huge “if” since the supposed evidence supporting the idea that autism is caused by mercury is about as reliable as the ‘evidence’ in favor of homeopathy.

Now, despite the clear ethical dilemmas presented by this research proposal, there could possibly be a slight advantage if it goes through. If chelation shows a negative result, then the hundreds of parents who are already having this treatment done to their children might possibly see the error of their ways. Of course, this is wishful thinking, since they will likely only attribute it to another ‘big science’ conspiracy to keep kids on vaccines.

The question, however, is whether or not that very slim hope of making people see the proverbial light is worth the endangering of children by exposing them to a process that even NIMH director Tom Insel has said “carries more than minimal risk and offers no demonstrable benefit to the participants.”

Personally, I don’t think that the consensus of paranoid mothers going on nothing but confirmation bias and anecdotal evidence should be enough to warrant a pointless study which endangers the health and lives of innocent children. If that makes me close-minded, fine. If the mercury militia (a term coined by SGU I think) wants to claim ‘Galileo’ and froth at the mouth about how I want to silence their dissenting views, go nuts! But I would put my money on real evidence (or lack thereof) over a ‘mommy’s intuition’ any day.

If you are skeptical of my thoughts and opinions on the mercury/autism debate, check out DOCTOR Steven Novella’s blog on the issue here.

Oh, and here too.


EDIT 7/29:

In related news, Cornell University has done a study linking autism to telivision watching. Interesting.

Thanks to Amanda at Skepchick for the story.


One Response to “A new study on mercury/autism…”

  1. doazic said

    Ah yes, the old “should we test things that are completely implausible” dilemma.

    p.s. I always thought the TV-Autism study was done in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

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