The excellent and challenging drama “The Shield” is featuring a story-line on vaccine based mercury poisoning. Vik Mackey, one of the lead characters, has an autistic son and the family is approached by an attorney about a class action suit against the manufacture of the vaccine.
Its good to see this sort of issue on mainstream TV but there is always a danger of over-simplifing this issue. For more on the claims and counter claims of this difficult issue, see mercury and autism.
Previous coverage of autism in The Shield: Tomatis Method in The Shield.
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published its biannual report of toxins found in the a representative sample of the US population. The section on mercury, which some people link to autism, is very informative and gives information on how mercury gets into the environment and into our bodies. Its on page 45 of the full report [PDF 3mb] but I’ve copied the text below for convenience.
The results themselves do not point to an alarming level of mercury. Only 5.7% of adults were anywhere near the level known to cause neurological problems and none where over it. None of the children tested exhibited notably high-levels of mercury either. If there was a major problem with mercury causing autism it is likely that a least one child out of the 1500 tested would have notably high levels of mercury in their blood. This does not mean mercury is not connected with autism. It could be that some children have peaks of mercury poisoning due to environmental hot-spots or eating fish with unusually high levels of mercury. Childern are also not created equal. Some are more susceptible to heavy metal poisoning that others.
However, wide-scale mercury poisoning as a cause of the rise in autism is less likely.
David Kirby’s book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy looks at the role mercury plays in autism (see Mercury & Autism; Ethyl Mercury Versus Methyl Mercury). There is an extensive and well written review of it on Spiked-Online by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, author of MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know.
“I fear that his misguided endorsement of the anti-mercury cause can only compound the damage that this campaign has already done, both to families affected by autism and, by undermining public confidence in the childhood immunisation programme, to the welfare of children in general.
Kirby, a freelance journalist in New York, presents this ‘medical controversy’ as a confrontation between two camps. On the one side are heroic, suffering, struggling parents and their courageous supporters; on the other are cold, scheming, faceless bureaucrats of the medical establishment, big pharma and big government. Kirby’s character sketches leave readers in no doubt about his allegiances.”
New research by the University of Arkansas points to the possibility of a blood test to detect autism. The study by Dr James (Metabolic biomarkers of increased oxidative stress and impaired methylation capacity in children with autism) points to autistic children having a impaired capacity for methylation, which has many functions in the human body including dealing with heavy metals, including mercury. Specifically, 80 per cent of autistic children in the study had notably low levels of active glutathione. A reduction of glutathione can wreak damage on the brain, gastro-intestinal tract and immune system. Heavy metals also reach higher levels more quickly in children with low glutathione. The build-up may act as an environmental trigger, turning on latent autism-causing genes. The Arkansas team has also found that the genes controlling glutathione metabolism are more likely to be disrupted in autistic children than in healthy ones.
Source: Times Online Science Notebook
See Also: Mercury & Autism; Ethyl Mercury Versus Methyl Mercury
One of the proposed links between Mercury and Autism is Thimerosal, a compound that has been used in vaccinations. A new study [PDF of abstract] from the University of Washington, Seattle, USA has examine the different effects of ethyl mercury, used in Thimerosal, and methyl mercury, commonly used in industrial processes. Most of the toxicology data on mercury is based on accidental exposure to Methyl Mercury in the work place.
The study inject new born monkeys with either ethyl mercury (in the form of thimerosal) or methyl mercury in doses equivalent to that found in vaccinations for human babies. Mercury levels were then monitored and it was found that the ethyl mercury cleared from the body a lot quicker than the methyl mercury. Critically brain concentrations of total mercury were significantly lower by about three-fold for the thimerosal exposed infants when compared to the methyl mercury infants. This is important because mercury causes brain damage only through long-term exposure (a fact that gave us the phrase ‘as mad as a hatter‘). Thus if the body is cleaning itself quickly of the ethyl mercury, it doesn’t have the chance to build up and cause damage.
Coverage from Rueters: Mercury in Vaccines Different, Study Shows
Generation Rescue are a non-profit organisation that highlights the link between autism and mercury poisoning. Mercury is slightly toxic in its liquid state but highly toxic if inhaled or in various compounds. Its known to cause liver and brain damage.
Surprisingly mercury is used in vaccinations given to children mostly in a chemical called Thimerosal which acts as a preservative. A study on mice found that it did have an effect on development but a Danish study found no link between autism and Thimerosal. In fact autism rates increased after Thimerosal was banned,
Mercury is also released by coal firing power stations. In a study published in Health and Place researchers found that "On average, for each 1000 lb of environmentally released mercury, there was a 43% increase in the rate of special education services and a 61% increase in the rate of autism."