Chelation and autism are, of course, two different entities. Chelation is the process of removing heavy metals from the body by administering a binding agent that pulls the toxic materials from the blood and organs. Chelating has been very successful in lead poisoning and similar problems.
Autism is a neurological disorder that is generally recognized before the age of three by lack of eye contact, lack of social development, lack or loss of speech, and repetitive motions. Chelation has been recommended by some as a treatment for autism. To differentiate between this and other uses for chelation, we will use the term “chelation autism” to refer to this treatment.
Why Chelation Autism?
The cause of autism is unknown. It is widely believed to be a condition present at birth but beyond that, the specific reasons it occurs in a person are unknown. The current belief is that, as with most chronic conditions, autism results from a genetic predisposition assaulted by an environmental circumstance. Some indication that autistic people may have a decreased ability to metabolize mercury has led to the theory that high levels of mercury may be a cause of autistic symptoms.
Chelation autism, then, is the use of chelating agents to remove mercury from the body in an effort to relieve at least some autistic symptoms. Adherents of this theory point to an increase in the number of autistic diagnoses since the rise of mercury in the environment and the use of thimerosal as a preservative in early childhood vaccines. Opponents of the theory explain the rise in numbers to better diagnostic tools and more aware pediatricians.
Some of the physical signs of mercury toxicity include dilated pupils, sweaty hands and feet, pathologic reflexes, very brisk knee jerks, esotropia (one eye focuses on an object while the other turns inward), rashes and/or an elevated heart rate. There are several tests for mercury in the blood, hair and urine. Even in toxic amounts, mercury may not show up in all of the tests, so a panel of tests is necessary. After mercury leaves the blood, hair, and urine, it remains for the longest time in the brain.
It’s the brain’s grasp of mercury that some believe is the reason for association with autism. Chelation autism, they feel, is necessary to make the body let go of the toxic mercury. DMPS (2,3-dimercaptopropane sulfonate) is good for chelation autism but has never been tested in children and so is not recommended by experts. Instead, the proven DMSA (meso-2,3-dimercaptosuccinic acid) is used for chelation autism. The FDA has found it to be safe and effective for chelation in children for lead poisoning. There has been no officially sanctioned compound for chelation autism.