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From the Townsend Letter
April 2008


Chelation Corner
Toxic Metals and Autism
by E. Blaurock-Busch, PhD

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General Information

US Autism Statistics

  • Recent documents estimate that one out of every 150 infants is becoming autistic.
  • Four out of five are male.
  • Three out of four are thought to be mentally retarded.
  • One-third of those with autism suffer from epilepsy.
  • Most are institutionalized by age 13.
  • Occurrence has increased 556% during the 1990s, possibly due to increases in occurrence or awareness.

Possible Causes of Autism


  • Twenty-five times more likely to have autism if sibling does
  • Seventy-five percent with affected identical twin
  • Clear genetic predisposition but no consistent chromosomal link
  • What triggers those that are predisposed is unknown

Toxins and Pollutants

  • Brick Township, N.J., a working class town with a well-known toxic landfill was found to have three times the normal autistic occurrence.
  • Of the toxins involved, mercury seems to be the most common problem.

Vaccination and Viruses

  • More evidence points towards childhood vaccinations as a trigger, and the most common vaccine which seems to trigger autism is the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The reaction is not immediate. The child begins to become autistic about one month after being vaccinated. Another vaccines that appears to cause problems are the triple – diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) (DTP). Also, children have been reported to become autistic after chicken pox or other viruses. These particular children tend to have many infections and viruses in their early years, for example, tonsillitis and ear infections.

Contributing Factors

Food and Chemical Sensitivities

  • Underlying causes are digestive dysfunctions or genetically based intolerance such
    as lactose or gluten intolerances.

The Genetic Connection:
Why Some Children Become Autistic and Others Do Not

A person's ability to tolerate toxins depends on how quickly the body can eliminate the toxic burden, and this important biological detoxification mechanism depends on enzyme functions. Certainly, the human body contains multiple enzyme systems involved in the detoxification process, but when one or more are missing or are not functioning, the body's ability to eliminate the excess burden is affected. In fact, normal detoxification may be significantly impaired. To put it simply: if a child is missing one or two enzyme systems, the immunization, with its significant mercury exposure, can overwhelm the young developing brain tissues, resulting in nerve damage. Had all enzyme systems functioned properly, the body would have more quickly eliminated excess mercury, preventing some or most of the damage.

The glutathione S-transferases (GSTM1, GSTT1, etc.) are a family of enzymes responsible for the detoxification process, particularly mercury and other toxic metal compounds detoxification. These enzymes are also known to play a role in the detoxification of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in tobacco smoke. In the United States, case-control studies have reported this enzyme missing in 23% -41% for those of African descent; 32%-53% for those of Asian descent, 40% -53% for those of Hispanic descent, and 35% -62% for those of European descent. Several population studies have reported the deletion polymorphism among US Caucasians as ranging from 48%-57%. Other countries have reported varying frequencies of the deletion polymorphism, and an Iranian study showed that in 31% to 38% of the population, the GSTM1 enzyme was missing. Groups such as Pacific Islanders and Malasians have a reported frequency of 62%-100%. Other Asian populations have high reported frequencies of the deletion genotype ranging from 48% -50% for Japanese and 35%-63% for Chinese. A population-based study conducted among Chinese reported a frequency of 51% for the GSTM1 deletion genotype. Two Korean case-control studies found frequencies of 53% and 56% for the GSTM1 deletion genotype.

The above statistics demonstrate that missing enzyme systems are playing a large role in most populations. Since the genetic make-up is inherited, it would make sense to have expectant parents and/or newborns tested, particularly before vaccination with thimerosal-containing vaccines are used. Genetic testing is relatively inexpensive, and it has to be done only once in a lifetime. Most importantly, when we know our genetic "disability," we are in a better position to protect ourselves and our children in the following ways:

  • We can use care in preventing toxic overexposure.
  • Since we have numerous enzyme systems involved in the detoxification process, we can strengthen our detoxification ability by supporting and strengthening other enzyme systems.

We can prevent or lessen intoxication problems by using chelation. Remember, a weak system needs more help to detoxify. Synthetic or nutritional chelation is a medical therapy that aids detoxification. By freeing our body from toxins, we allow recuperation and regeneration of cellular systems, including nerve tissues.

The Mercury Connection

Mercury, one of the most toxic elements, easily passes the blood-brain barrier. Research from the University of Calgary has documented that mercury, unlike other toxic metals, is toxic to nerve cells in minute concentrations. For the first time in medical history, scientists – Lorscheider, Leong, and Syed – were able to demonstrate how mercury infiltrates brain cells, affecting normal cell growth. The team provided visual evidence that mercury initiates and causes neurodegeneration.

How Are Children Exposed to Mercury?
Here's a curious "coincidence." In the late 1930s, Leo Kanner identified autism as a new type of mental disorder. That was the year thimerosal was introduced into vaccines! Although mercury toxicity has been studied for decades, and EPA safety levels have been set, during all that time, a child's greatest exposure to mercury – thimerosal in vaccines – was never even included in the toxicity studies! The talk has always been about methylmercury from seafood and the environment, totally ignoring the two most toxic sources of mercury for children: vaccines and dental amalgams.

By age two, American children have received 237 micrograms of mercury through vaccines alone, which far exceeds current EPA "safe" levels of one-tenth of a mcg/kg per day. Three days in particular may be singled out as spectacularly toxic for infants:

  • Day of birth: hepatitis B vaccine is given, which contains 12 mcg mercury, which is 30 times the safe level
  • At four months: DTaP and HiB vaccines are given on the same day, providing a mercury dose of 50 mcg, which is 60 times the safe level.
  • At six months: Hep B, Polio vaccines are given, providing 62.5 mcg mercury, which is 78 times the safe level.
  • At 15 months: the child receives another 50 mcg, which is 41 times the safe level.

These figures are calculated for an infant's average weight in kilograms for each age.

How Do I Know Whether My Child Is or Has Been Affected?
Do we need a child's blood sample for the testing of toxic metals? In most cases, we do not. A blood test for toxic metals is important when a patient has been exposed to the toxin within the last 72 hrs. For instance, if we would take a blood sample right after immunization, we would find high mercury levels and know that this child has been exposed. We call this an acute exposure. However, if the immunization took place two weeks ago, we no longer see mercury, unless the child is exposed through other means. The following blood report shows extreme mercury blood levels of a young Hong Kong child suffering from autism. Such high blood levels reflect a direct mercury exposure, which in this case stems from eating fish.

Hong Kong children eat a lot of fish, and much of that fish comes from toxic sources. When we test the blood of these children, we generally find extremely high levels of mercury. It is not unusual to find mercury levels in the blood of Hong Kong children that exceed allowed blood levels more than five times. When we compare the blood levels of European children, we rarely see elevated mercury levels. Micro Trace Minerals' database demonstrates that nearly 100% of the Hong Kong children's blood values are far above the safe levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In most cases, the mercury exposure is immediate. Eating fish is one source of contamination.

Hong Kong children, especially those of upper income parents, receive fish meals quite early in life, and the fresh fish available in this region of the world contains levels of mercury that exceed safe levels as recommend for food. As a result, these children are chronically exposed throughout their early lives. This long-term exposure results in tissue accumulation of mercury (and other toxins), and hair analyses performed on Hong Kong children easily demonstrate this chronic overexposure. Figure 1 shows a hair mineral analysis of such a child. Mercury levels are high, demonstrating a significant long-term exposure. Reference ranges are children-specific.

Mineral Analysis

Figure 1: Hair Mineral Analysis of Child Living in Hong Kong
A hair mineral analysis indicates how much of a toxin is stored in tissue. When we find elevated mercury levels in hair, we can be certain that significant amounts have passed to brain and nerve tissues. Hair mineral analysis reflects long-term exposure, including fetal exposure. A pregnant mother frequently detoxifies herself by passing on toxins to her developing fetus. A pregnant woman receiving an amalgam filling will, most definitely, endanger her child, predisposing it to metal intoxication. Thus, infants may be born with a mercury burden, and when immunization starts, even more toxins are added to the already existing body burden. Taking a hair sample is a painless procedure. Less then one half gram of head hair is needed for testing, and most infants have sufficient hair for that. (Please visit for more details on hair mineral analysis).

Detoxification and Other Treatment Modalities

Safe Ways to Detoxify Children
At the recent San Diego, California conference on autism, Dr. Amy Holmes presented her thoughts on treatment. Dr. Holmes reported success using alpha lipoic acid (ALA) as an agent to cross the blood-brain barrier, and this use of alpha lipoic acid has, indeed shown success in the treatment of autistic children. Prof. Lam, of Hong Kong, and other doctors reported good results when combining alpha-lipoic acid and DMSA. Both of these substances are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. DMSA has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to detoxify children, and it is important to know that chelating agents such as EDTA or DMPS do not in any significant way cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore are not the chelators of choice when we aim to detoxify brain centers.

There is another advantage to using DMSA and ALA: they do not significantly bind essential elements such as zinc or iron. Thus, the chelation treatment is not likely to disturb the fragile biochemical make-up of children. Certainly, ALA is not causing nutritional deficiencies or imbalances, and it is unlikely that DMSA does cause problems, provided the product is pure and used according to protocol and under the direction of a physician experienced in chelation.Treatment protocols for the oral use of DMSA, lipoic acid, antioxidants, amino acids, and other nutritional means are available and safe to use ( Still, medical observation is needed, especially when considering the often highly allergic nature of the autistic child.

Autistic children are more difficult to treat. Doctors and parents face difficulties, such as how to get the child to swallow the pills. This is a challenge, and thus alternative routes of administering "chelation substances" have been proposed worldwide. For instance, the use of transdermal DMPS is promoted as an alternative by well-meaning doctors. However, the head pharmacist of the German Heyl Company, producers of DMPS, advises against transdermal DMPS. According to Dr. Ruprecht, this form of application is not able to detoxify organ systems other than the skin, and mercury is not easily found in skin tissue. Furthermore, DMPS has a strong affinity to bind zinc, and since zinc is necessary for skin health, a depletion can result in skin problems.

How can we get a child to swallow pills? Hiding the pills in food such as a piece of banana or even chocolate may work, or placing the pills in the back of the mouth and having the child swallow, then quickly offering a drink or favorite food. When all else fails, we open the capsules and mix the (foul-tasting) DMSA and ALA in a small portion of tomato or other juice and follow-up with a favorite drink, even lemonade or Coke. While Coke or lemonade are not recommended otherwise, the purpose is to divert the child's attention, and as a result, the child swallows the chelating agents. With smartness and patience, you can bring a child to swallow the necessary pills.

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