Autism, Autism and Mercury

The chances are you already know what Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is but don’t recognise it by name. You normally see it in underwater action films or documentaries as the process used to treat the bends in divers. The bends is a potentially fatal problem caused when deep-sea divers come up to the surface too quickly. Patients are placed in a pressure vessel that replicates the pressures the body endures underwater in a pure oxygen environment.
Surprisingly this process is recognised as an effective treatment for other problems such as wounds and sores that won’t heal. It seems the oxygen rich, high pressure atmosphere stimulates the healing process. However HBOT is being recommend by some doctors and new-age therapists as a treatment for a wide range of problems including autism.
The Hyperbaric Medical Centre of New Mexico under Dr. Kenneth Stoller, who is also assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, is one centre offering the treatment. Dr Stoller is firmly on the anti-mercury/thimerosal side of the “Does mercury cause autism?” debate.
When I first found out about HBOT I was extremely skeptical. There is no evidence it works with autistic childern and some proponents of HBOT promote a long list of conditions that HBOT can treat. I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is the longer the list of problems a treatment claims to help the less likely it actually helps. However it seems at least logical that increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain could stimulate neural growth and repair. Dr Stoller presented a paper, Hyperbaric Medicine and Brain Injured Children, to the US Government and contains some evidence to support his claims.
The one thing we can be sure about HBOT and autism is that there is no consensus or body of evidence to say it works. Anyone interested in pursuing this therapy should consider long and hard before undertaking this unproven treatment.
See also: FAQ from Hyperbaric Medicine Today magazine, The Age of Autism: Showdown in Santa Fe

Autism, Autism and Mercury

There is an excellent series of articles on Science Daily looking at the question of do we have an autism epidemic? Instead of studying claim and counter claim by statisticians, the article looks back at the beginning of autism.
"The first person to diagnose autism … was Leo Kanner … a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. … [B]y 1958 — 15 years after he first created the diagnosis — he had seen just 150 autism cases. Another doctor who became the European authority on the disorder saw only 10 cases in the decade after his first paper was published; a third ‘found only one true case of infantile autism in 36,500 clinical cases,’ … No matter how you slice or dice the diagnostic categories, something doesn’t compute — how can there be half a million children with Autism Spectrum Disorders living in the United States today, when the man who identified the disorder could only find 150 in the first 15 years?"
This a supposition as the medical and education services worked differently then. People saw the doctor less, education wasn’t as universal as it is now. Autistic children may of been more prone to childhood diseases prevalent at the time and never survived long enough to be diagnosed. However it is a point worth exploring and certainly raises the question what happened in the 1930’s to either cause autism or enable it to be diagnosed.
The second part, in an excellent piece of journalism, the writer tracks down patient zero Donald T., the first person to be diagnosed with autism, who is alive, well and thriving. In fact the person described seems barely autistic. Two key events are credited with this recovery. Donald was placed with a family on rural farm where his repetitive behavior was put to good use in a caring and quiet environment and at the age 12 he became ill and was treated with gold salts. Mercury and gold have a natural affinity and will bind together which is why mercury was used to help extract gold in mining operations.
Now Donald T.’s recovery could be either down to the behavioral therapy he gained from the safe, loving and peaceful environment of the farm or from the gold salts treatment. Or both. The articles however decide to focus on the gold treatment in parts three and four.
See also: Autism and the Amish

Autism, Autism and Mercury, Web/Tech

"Mercury emissions from power plants alone impact approximately 500,000 children each year in the U.S. Their resulting lowered IQ translates into an annual economic loss of $1.3 billion"
This frightening quote comes from a well researched article: Toxic Emissions and Developmental Disease on Oh my News. It looks at how pollution and its links to autism and ADHD cost society billions of dollars. Covering mercury, pesticides and lead it has some frightening statistics: "Human sources account for 70 percent of the …  mercury released into the environment each year [and] 1.16 million women of childbearing age ‘eat sufficient amounts of mercury-contaminated fish to pose a risk of harm to their future children’".
There are also some political points: "The Bush administration actively puts down European initiatives … that would force industry to evaluate the safety of chemicals prior to their marketing to the general public. This …  might cost the U.S. $30 billion in lost sales [but] … today’s generation of newborns has a $110 to $318 billion GREATER earning capacity as a result of NOT being exposed to the levels of lead faced by infants a generation ago ".

Autism, Autism and Mercury, Science

I think its safe to say that autism generates the most unscientific claims either for the causes or the treatment of the problem. MMR, Thimerosal and the merits of  Chelation  all have produced large amounts of uneducated and biased opinions from both sides of the fence without any regard to the science.
There is an answer. Association for Science in Autism Treatment is "committed to science as the most objective, time-tested and reliable approach to discerning between safe, effective autism treatments".  Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be very active. The last newsletter  was in 2003 but you can read them online and there is a separate library of articles

Autism, Autism and Mercury, Autism Tests & Diagnosis, Science

Is your autistic child Complex or Essential? Research by the Autism Centre at the Children’s Hospital Columbia, Missouri is suggesting that there are two distinct forms of autism.
Children with Complex Autism make up about 20% of the autistic population. They tend to have lower IQs, more physical and brain abnormalities including microcephaly,  and are just as likely to be boys as girls. Essential Autism is male dominated, seven boys to every one girl, and sufferers tend to have less seizures plus a higher IQ. An important difference between Complex and Essential is that Complex is not hereditary where as Essential can be.
If this distinction between the two type is valid then it could have some important implications for finding the causes and best treatments. As Complex Autism is non-hereditary and is high in congenital defects it points to a environment or external factor during pregnancy being the cause. Where as Essential Autism might be purely caused by genetics or an external factor such as mercury or a combination of both (see Blood Test for Autism?). 
On the treatment side, the symptoms and type of autism can predict a successful treatment. Successful being defined as an IQ greater than 70 and having verbal ability at eight years old or greater.

Symptom % Chance Of Successful Treatment
Not microcephaly 20
Essential autism 58
Non-dysmorphic 25
Macrocephaly 56
Male sex 19
Normocephaly 16
Female sex 15
Normal EEG 12

Study Full Text [PDF]: Essential Versus Complex Autism: Definition of Fundamental Prognostic Subtypes

Autism, Autism and Mercury, Web/Tech

Yesterday I found a couple of blogs on Autism both with interesting things to say. Autism Nights is so new its only on its second article but what an article it is. Top 10 Reasons Parents of Autistic Children are Pissed Off (Numbers 1 – 3) is a
diatribe on how mercury and autism are connected. It makes no attempt at putting forward a balanced argument but lets face it, the pharmaceutical companies are big enough to stand up for themselves.
Adventures In Autism details the successes and failures in treating Chandler, the blogger’s three year old autistic son. Its been running about a year. It includes a review and diary of Chandler’s treatment at the Sensory Learning Center. Check out the archives for July and August 2004 for the diary. The blog also deals with mercury and has a good history of Thimerosal, the form of mercury used in vaccines.
More on Mercury and Autism