What would you do?
Imagine your child is autistic. You’ve followed your doctor’s advice and tried powerful antidepressant and antipsychotic medications with no results. Special diets haven’t worked. Sensory integration and other therapies haven’t worked. At that point you might be open to trying something outside the medical mainstream.
This would appear to be the situation that a family from the U.K. found themselves in when they decided to bring their five-year-old boy to a Pennsylvania clinic for chelation therapy. Last week, after his third session of chelation, the boy died of apparent cardiac arrest.
The loss of a child is tragic, but even more so when the parents are doing everything they can to insure their child’s well being. Autopsy results are still pending, so we still don’t know if the cause of death was directly related to the therapy. But regardless of those results, a new controversy has already erupted on the borderline that separates mainstream medicine from alternative healthcare.
Be good or be gone
This time last week I would guess that most people had never even heard the word chelation (pronounced “key-LAY-shun”). And it’s too bad that they should be introduced to this therapy by a tragedy because chelation is a useful tool. And despite the dire opinions you may have heard (one doctor told the Associated Press that she found chelation “very scary”), chelation is an FDA-approved therapy for treating children who have lead poisoning.
But there’s a catch.
Chelation was first developed in the 1940s by the U.S. Navy to treat lead poisoning. In addition to lead, chelation purges other heavy metals as well when the chelating agent binds to metals and removes them from the body through urination. Chelation also binds with mineral deposits and is often used to treat arterial disease by removing plaques from artery walls. So chelation is like a bouncer at a nightclub, locating unwanted patrons and escorting them out the door.
Now here’s the catch: In spite of the FDA approval to use this therapy on children, the medical mainstream CAN’T recognize the effectiveness of chelation in treating autism because that would amount to an official recognition of one of the suspected causes of autism: mercury toxicity from the vaccine preservative thimerosal.
Ignoring connected dots
I’m not going to reopen the thimerosal can of worms in today’s e-Alert. (If you’d like to see the most recent e-Alert on this subject – “Doctored Up” 7/12/05 – you can find it on our web site at hsionline.com.) Suffice it to say that the twin mainstreams of medicine and the media seem determined to place as much distance as possible between autism and the slightest hint that a vaccine ingredient might be at the root of the stunning rise in autism rates, which happen to parallel the rise in the use of thimerosal.
There’s just one little problem with the mainstream dismissal of the thimerosal/autism connection. For many autistic kids, chelation works. And this is one of those rare cases where there can be no placebo effect. Children don’t snap out of autism just because they’re aware they’re being treated.
Like so many alternative therapies, chelation has not been exhaustively researched. But when you’re the desperate parents of an autistic child, you don’t have the luxury of waiting until the day when we know all there is to know about this therapy. According to the Associated Press, a 2001 Autism Research Institute report showed that in a survey of more than 23,000 parents who resorted to chelation for their autistic children, nearly three out of four said this detox method had helped.
Will level heads prevail?
Earlier this year, a child died after passing out on a space ship ride at Disney World. The park wasn’t shut down. Its license to operate wasn’t revoked. And although the ride itself was closed, it was reopened the next day.
I hope the heartbreaking death of the U.K. boy isn’t exploited by the mainstream and used as an excuse to ban chelation therapy. When the details of this case come to light, hopefully we’ll be able to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. When I asked HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., for his thoughts, he pointed out that we still don’t know what type of chelation was used (there are several – some are considered more risky than others), what the dose was and how quickly the dose was given.
He finished his comments with this: “Too bad the 600 people who die of common oral aspirin EVERY YEAR don’t get the same press!”
Excellent point. This is the first chelation-related death in nearly half a century.
“Death Raises Questions About Autism Treatment” The Associated Press, 8/26/05, msnbc.msm.com