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Los Angeles Times picks up Tribune stories on autism alternative medicine

Posted Dec 06 2009 9:09pm

The recent series of stories on alternative medical approaches to treating autism caused quite a stir in the online autism community. Somehow, the groups that responded negatively appear to have failed in preventing other outlets from picking these stories up.

Chelation based on faulty premise

The risky treatment for autism that removes metals from patients’ bodies is often prompted by results from an uncertain test.

This article discusses chelation and how it is often justified using “challenge” testing. Challenge testing is not accepted by actual toxicologists. The story quotes an expert in environmental toxicology on

“That is exactly the wrong way to do it,” said Dr. Carl R. Baum, director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Toxicology at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.

Also, they note that the American Collenge of Medical Toxicology has issued a statement that challenge testing is not valid:

Alarmed by the rise in the use of this test to justify chelation, the American College of Medical Toxicology this summer criticized its use as “fraught with many misunderstandings, pitfalls and risks.”

The story also notes that there is ecidence, both animal research and anecdotal, indicating that chelation therapy is not always safe. They refer to one of the Autism Omnibus Proceeding test cases, that of young Colten Snyder:

Colten Snyder, another child whose case was evaluated in vaccine court, underwent chelation after tests on his blood and hair over six years came back normal for mercury, court records state.

Given that the boy was immunized with vaccines containing thimerosal, “his hair mercury was exceptionally low,” said his physician, Dr. J. Jeff Bradstreet of Florida. “That’s pathological.”

Colten went “berserk” after being given a chelator, according to a nurse whose notes were cited in court records. He also had incontinence, night sweats, headaches and back pain. Bradstreet testified that the boy did not do well with chelation but later said it is “impossible to know” what caused the problems.

In her decision, special master Denise Vowell criticized Bradstreet: “The more disturbing question is why chelation was performed at all, in view of the normal levels of mercury found in the hair, blood and urine, its apparent lack of efficacy in treating Colten’s symptoms and the adverse side effects it apparently caused.”

They note the recent study indicating where rats without real heavy metal poisoning were given a chelator. The chelation therapy resulted in a reduction in intelligence to the rats. The implication is clear: challenge testing may be used to justify chelating non-poisoned children. There is a serious question of whether this is resulting in harm.

When rats with no lead exposure were treated with succimer, a common chelator given to children with autism, the animals showed lasting impairments of cognitive function and emotional regulation, said the study’s lead researcher, Barbara Strupp at Cornell University.

She said that finding raises concerns about administering chelators to children with autism unless they clearly have elevated levels of heavy metals. “I was just astounded and concerned for these kids,” she said.

After she learned that the National Institutes of Health planned to conduct a clinical trial of chelation in children with autism, she alerted the researchers to her findings. The study was later canceled.

“Really,” Baum said, “[parents] are putting their children at serious risk.”

Other stories echoing the recent Tribune stories:

Autism therapies can get undeserved credit

Autism: Kids put at risk

Four autism treatments that worry physicians

On shaky ground with alternative treatments to autism

Doctors and others who support experimental therapies such as hyperbaric chambers cite validity of the science. But the misuse of studies, lack of clinical trials and safety issues tell another story.

In a bit of irony, Google ads keeps linking chelationists, HBOT clinics and other alt-med groups to these stories.

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