Another bit of quackery bites the dust (hopefully)

Hat tip to Sullivan over at Left Brain Right Brain for mentioning this study.
The idea that autism could be caused by mercury poisoning is an offshoot of the “MMR causes Autism” lie propagated by Andrew Wakefield. Thimerosal, also called thiomersal, was an antibiotic compound containing mercury added to some vaccinations as a preservative, particularly the MMR Vaccine. This enabled the use of multidose vials which are cheaper than single dose vials. It metabolises to ethylmercury in the body and is rapidly excreted, unlike methylmercury which can bioaccumulate. After “concerns” arose, it was removed. Some anti-vaxxers predicted that rates of autism would drop. They didn’t.
Even though the idea that Autism was a form of mercury poisoning was clearly questionable, it still led unethical people to create “treatments” quackier than a duckpond. The main such idea was chelation. In chelation, the patient is given a chelator, a compound that binds to metals so that they can be more easily excreted by the kidneys.
Chelation has a genuine medical use. If a person is suffering from heavy metal (e.g. lead) poisoning, a chelator will be administered to help the patient get rid of the metal. However, there’s a danger. Chelators will bind to any metal, including calcium, which is necessary to control heartbeat. Doctors administering a chelator will usually administer calcium in some form to prevent heart stoppages.
One test the quacks used was the “challenge test”. In this, the patient was given a chelator and then the levels of mercury in his or her urine were measured. If the levels were elevated (which is what you would expect), that was regarded as proof that the patient needed chelation. If the levels of mercury were within a normal range, that was viewed as proof that the patient was a “poor excretor of mercury”, and thus needed chelation. It’s a classic example of “Morton’s Fork“.
Parents of Autistic children, taken in by dishonest individuals, payed large sums to have their children chelated in the hopes of curing them. Some paid a much higher price. Tariq Nadama’s parents took him to Dr. Roy Kerry. Kerry adminisered a chelator, but failed to give Tariq extra calcium. Tariq died.
More recently, Mark and David Geier, a father and son, have been nailed for their lupron protocol. A study suggested that testosterone could bind to mercury. The Geiers then came up with a “treatment”. They diagnosed patients with precocious puberty on grounds that could politely be called dubious, and gave them lupron, a substance that stops the body making testosterone, before chelating them. Things fell apart when Mark Geier was investigated and then suspended by the Maryland State Board of Physicians. David Geier had managed to worm his way on to the Maryland Autism Commission as a Board Member. After his father’s unethical activities were exposed, he was asked to leave, then kicked off when he failed to take the hint.
Numerous people have been gouged out of huge sums by quacks touting these “treatments” over the years. Hopefully, this will be the end of it.


About autismjungle

I am a Software Test Analyst. Shortly before I turned 21 I was officially diagnosed, although I had long suspected I was autistic. Welcome to my blog
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