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Miracle Cure or Voodoo Medicine?

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Government researchers are pushing to test a controversial treatment on autistic children. We talked to two pediatricians about it, plus a mom who is trying it with her 8-year-old daughter.


Dismissed by some scientists as "voodoo medicine," a proposed chelation therapy study is sparking debate in the autism community, with doctors and moms eager for a cure on one side and concerned researchers on the other. This treatment uses a variety of drugs to remove metals from the body, and while many moms are currently using the treatments, there have been several lawsuits and at least one chelation-related death. Side effects for one chelation drug can include rashes and even the possibility of dumping the metals into a child's central nervous system.

Pediatrician and mom Dr. Cara Natterson weighs in: "Because there is no consensus on the underlying cause of autism, there is no way to target a medical treatment. There is no obvious pill or liquid to try because the biology of autism continues to be a mystery. A parent's desire to attempt "everything possible" is completely understandable, but at this stage in the game throwing a medication at autism is like throwing a dart in the dark. Yes, there have been anecdotal reports of improvement with chelation therapy, but there have also been reported dangers, including death.

Doctors take an oath to "First do no harm." In the case of chelation therapy, it is not entirely clear that offering it doesn't cause known harm. As a result, parents of autistic children are left struggling with a medical dilemma familiar to cancer patients and others with illnesses whose treatment is currently evolving: how aggressive can I be in attacking a disease without causing more harm than good? In the case of autism, no one--not doctors, not parents--knows the answer to this yet."

Said pediatrician Dr. Gwenn: "This makes me nervous. Chelation therapy removes heavy metals and is not benign. This is how we treat lead poisoning, for example. The medications are intense and almost always cause some sort of side effect.

This is a case of grasping at thin air and attempting to push the issue of mercury causing autism, despite current studies supporting the opposite. Keep in mind that the most recent study we have of vaccines in infants proves that any elements like thimerosal do not stay in the infants long enough to cause any harm.

In addition to the risk vs. benefit analysis, there is cost to consider -- and it would be considerable. So, under the "do no harm" charge of caring for kids, this falls under "causing harm." I can't justify using chelation for autism given what we know today."

But mom Audrey Cole has a different point-of-view. Her 8-year-old daughter, Abigail, has been undergoing chelation treatments for the last year.

"It seems to be helping and working. We've done four or five sessions over the last year. Every two and half months we give our daughter this supplement in powder form, and we hide it in something sweet like a marshmallow. The supplement stirs up the heavy metals in her system. Then we give her these minerals that bind to the metals so that she can excrete them.

This treatment is followed by a blood draw at a local hospital so that we can monitor how her body responds to it. It tests what metals are being pulled out, and monitors her organ function because it's possible that as these metals are being stirred up that it will affect her kidney and her liver. We have to safely pull out the metals without hurting her. The blood draw can be traumatic every time because she doesn't understand why it has to happen or why it's going on.

"It's very experimental still, but in our experience it's helped, though I have heard a few horror stories from a while back. It's important to have a doctor who knows about it and is willing to help you through it, and to know other families who are also doing it."

Do you think the chelation therapy study should be approved?

next: Celeb Moms Are Total Losers
54 comments so far | Post a comment now
Joe July 11, 2008, 2:03 PM

There are several inaccurate statements in this article. First of all, the child you mention did not die from chelation. He died because the wrong drug was administered. Medical errors are one of the leading causes of death in this country. Why is this the only case that ever gets discussed? BTW, all charges have been dropped against the Doctor in this case. Mercury cause’s rash not chelating agents. Rashes appear during chelation because mercury is being removed through the pores of the skin. Think about it; your child is exposed to high levels of mercury, they exhibit multiple symtoms of mercury poisoning, they test positive for mercury, they recieve safe treatment (chelation) and symptoms diminish. This isn’t some “voodoo medicine”. I know of thousands of kids who have been chelated w/out any side effects whatsoever. The way to monitor if it is working is by testing for porphyrins in the urine. Mercury inhibits enzymes which cause several porphyrins to build up in the urine. There are at least 4 labs that perform this test. It’s non-evasive,inexpensive and backed by research done on dentists.

Joe July 11, 2008, 2:25 PM

One other thing. Dr Gwenn says, “Keep in mind that the most recent study we have of vaccines in infants proves that any elements like thimerosal do not stay in the infants long enough to cause any harm.” What she should have said is that studies show that ethyl mercury from vaccines does not stay in infants blood long. Nobody is arguing this fact. Research on baby primates show that the mercury from vaccines is quickly deposited in the brain. She then says remember, “first do no harm”. Why doesn’t this statement apply when injecting babies with mercury, aluminum and other vaccine toxins?

isles July 18, 2008, 2:02 AM

Actually, it is Joe who is wrong. The child who died received exactly the drug the “doctor” (who doesn’t deserve the title - an ENT cashing in on the desperation of parents by working far outside the scope of his experience) intended him to get. It was part of a twisted protocol intended to drain the autism out of him faster.

Parents like to show off their “positive mercury tests” but these are meaningless - they are invariably provoked urine tests (which will always show mercury, in anyone) for which there is no recognized reference range. The only purpose of these tests is to convince parents that they need to give quack doctors their money.

Dr. Gwenn is entirely correct in stating that ethylmercury from thimerosal exits the body quickly. Try reading the studies, Joe, instead of spouting lines from antivaccine newsgroups.

Rhonda Antell July 18, 2008, 7:01 PM

This is an interesting topic. I have only begun reading about it. What are the optimal ages this treatment is designed for? It seems that it might be more harmful to young children and might not be as effective for older children and adults? Is that true?

isles July 19, 2008, 12:19 AM

Rhonda, it’s not helpful for anyone. It treats a condition which does not exist.

nicola August 3, 2008, 6:44 AM

Joe i agree…… How incredibly stupid some people are! lol studies have shown that in 2003 when certain vaccines were clubbed together ( not mentioning any names ) and given to babies, they contained such high levels of mercury, that such a level could only be safely absorbed by a body weighing 225lbs………Mmmmmmm my children certainly didnt weigh 225lbs when they were 6 weeks old. It may also be worth mentioning that in the uk ….the rise in parental complaints with regards to autism were at their height in ………2003 WAKE UP AND STOP POISONING YOUR CHILDREN

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