Autism’s Alternative Treatments

January 4, 2010

It’s about time we wrote an update on all the autism myths swarming around and confusing parents. There seems to be a lull in the antivaccine war drums, but I wouldn’t doubt that another Hydra head will spring up to replace others that have been chopped down.  Indeed, we maybe seeing the next wave of tactics by vaccine haters with a new libel suit against Dr. Paul Offit, a man who has been vilified by his anti-science opponents for (deservedly) making $5 million as a co-inventor of the vaccine for rotavirus. Go to Science-Based Medicine to see the full scoop on Offit’s legal challenge.

So, most of us know what the antivaccine army opposes, but let’s take a look at what they recommend.

What is Lupron? Lupron is a hormone therapy meant to reduce excess testosterone. It’s been used to chemically castrate sex offenders. Mark and David Geier are the scientists who have been promoting this treatment, despite the fact that they are not experts in endocrinology or autism. Lupron has been used to treat precocious puberty and to chemically neuter sex offenders. The amount of Lupron recommended by the Geiers is ten times greater than the dose recommended for precocious puberty, and essentially castrates autistic boys with “masturbation problems”.

There have not been trials of this procedure, so any parent using this method is willfully subjecting their children to a treatment with unknown risks. These $5000 Lupron treatments come in the form of intramuscular injections. It seems that the Geiers themselves are the folks who profit from the injections, and the only evidence behind their recommendation for Lupron is their own poorly done studies. Read more at The Chicago Tribune.

What is chelation? Chelation is the use of untested industrial agents added to creams or pills to draw heavy metals from the body. Some parents use chelation on their autistic children, even when there’s no evidence of higher metal toxicity. Children with autism are given chelating agents to release metals that have been bonded to tissue. Their urine is then tested for heavy metal toxicity, but the results are compared on a scale that was not meant to include results from chelated individuals. Which means that parents are gambling on a risky, potentially dangerous procedure without two important control groups: one to see whether children without autism also have high metal toxicity levels after chelation, and another to see whether non-chelated children report similar levels of progress.

This whole idea that autistic kids are contaminated with toxic levels of metal is based on the accusation that heavy-metals in vaccines stimulate autism, but there has never been any evidence for such an association (mercury is no longer in vaccines and aluminum is a minuscule ingredient). See more at The Los Angeles Times.

The Autism Diet?

I’ve said it before, but now it’s even more official. MSNBC reports that 25 experts have come to a consensus that there is no proof that children with autism are more prone to digestive problems or that gluten/casein-free diets are effective in “curing” (or even helping) symptoms of autism. In fact, the panel, which was funded by The Autism Society and other autism groups, warned pediatricians to watch for malnutrition in children with autism because of the limitations of wheat-free and dairy-free diets.

The idea that gut issues and autism had a connection to the MMR vaccine was, by all accounts, manufactured by Dr. Andrew Wakefield – his study on 12 autistic children has long since been debunked. Yet, Wakefield defiantly stampedes forward at Florida’s Thoughtful House, where he continues to treat autism with an income of a quarter million dollars per year, despite the lack of support from his scientific peers. How nice for the man who revived measles from the dead!

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That’s all well and good, I suppose, but I don’t take particular glee in these news stories. There are people in my life who have placed their bets on these expensive treatments. I empathize that they want answers, they want cures, and that they’ll try anything that might have a chance of working. Having a child on the spectrum is an incredible frustration for some people, one that I will likely never understand. Many parents have said that my right to speak on this topic should be revoked because I can’t possibly relate to their struggles. Regardless of those objections, I will report on the evidence as indicated in the legitimate scientific publications and mainstream media.

I will never say that there’s no possibility that some children with autism have high testosterone, are intoxicated with heavy metals, or are unable to digest wheat and dairy. What I will say is that there’s no evidence that these symptoms occur more in children with autism than they do in children without autism. In addition, the treatments for each supposed cause of autism are similarly unproven, and each of these treatments are potentially dangerous to human homeostasis.

Let’s hope that we can come up with a true cure and a definitive cause for autism in the near future.


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