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Various statistics rate the incidence of autism spectrum disorders at between 1 in 150 and 1 in 200. Not long ago, autism was thought to be genetic, with symptoms surfacing soon after birth. However, in the past two decades, a more common form of the disease has occurred. It is called regressive autism: children appear to be developing normally, but then suddenly regress. Parents watch helplessly as their healthy bundle of energy and joy loses speech, social interaction, and develops repetitive behaviors. Many parents and doctors report that regressive autism happens around vaccine exposures.

“Autism: A Unique Type of Mercury Poisoning” sheds some light on the cause of autism. It is a profoundly important paper written by health professionals from the organization SAFE MINDS who are also concerned parents of autistic children. During an intense literature search, they uncovered an association between Pink Disease, which was an epidemic of mercury poisoning caused by rubbing a mercury teething powder, called calomel, on the gums of innocent infants. This practice was followed beginning in the 1850s and finally recognized as toxic and banned in the 1950s.

SAFE MINDS found that children with autism and children with Pink Disease are emotionally impaired, lack eye contact, are remote, anxious, exhibit incoherent speech, and experience violent mood swings. Structural damage to the brain and biological damage to neurons and mitochondria are identical in autism and mercury toxicity. Brain biopsies from autistic victims also show shortened dendrites, which are a known direct effect of mercury.

Children in modern times are not poisoned with mercury teething powders but by injections of mercury contained in vaccinations that are ironically designed to prevent disease. Since 1999, vaccine manufacturers have “voluntarily” stopped using the mercury-containing thimerosal preservative, however, they did not recall vaccine already made which continued to be distributed for several years. Flu vaccines still contain mercury and are being recommended for the general population, including children.

Trying to fathom why a mercury preservative was chosen for vaccines, originally in 1930, I discovered a 2001 FDA paper on the history of thimerosal called, “Thimerosal in Vaccines.” It states that, “Prior to its introduction in the 1930s, data on several animal species and humans providing evidence for its safety and effectiveness as a preservative was available.” But the paper did not cite those pre-1930 studies. And it certainly did not mention a highly questionable thimerosal study done in 1929 by Eli Lilly, the makers of thimerosal. However, Waters & Kraus, in pursuing a lawsuit against Eli Lilly and Company, received the 1929 study in 2002 as part of the discovery process. It appears that the evidence for the safety of thimerosal has been built on a falsehood.

To be able to say they had done a successful clinical trial with thimerosal, Eli Lilly secretly sponsored an unethical “human toxicity” study by researcher K. C. Smithburn on patients who were dying of meningococcal meningitis. A flawed report condoning thimerosal was produced. Senior partner of Waters & Kraus, Andrew Waters, stated that, “Lilly then cited this study repeatedly for decades as proof that thimerosal was of low toxicity and harmless to humans. They never revealed to the scientific community or the public the highly questionable nature of the original research.”

In “Thimerosal in Vaccines,” the FDA quotes from this faulty Smithburn study but calls it the Powell and Jamieson study of 1931. The facts reported in both papers are identical. The FDA says that, “In this report, 22 individuals received 1 percent solution of thimerosal intravenously for unspecified therapeutic reasons. Subjects received up to 26 milligrams thimerosal/kg (1 milligram equals 1,000 micrograms) with no reported toxic effects, although two subjects demonstrated phlebitis or sloughing of skin after local infiltration.” The FDA makes sure the reader realizes that, “Of note, this study was not specifically designed to examine toxicity; seven of 22 subjects were observed for only one day, the specific clinical assessments were not described, and no laboratory studies were reported.” Powell and Jamieson were paid Eli Lily researchers. Smithburn was not an employee of Eli Lilly but signed over his 1929 report to the company.

In 1972, the FDA finally began its initial questioning of thimerosal’s safety and Eli Lilly gave them the Smithburn/ Powell study as evidence of safety. When Congressman Dan Burton learned about the Smithburn study, he lashed out at FDA officials in a 2001 congressional hearing. “You mean to tell me that since 1929, we’ve been using thimerosal and the only test that you know of is from 1929, and every one of those people had meningitis, and they all died?” The FDA officials did not respond.

The FDA continues in “Thimerosal in Vaccines”: “Since then, (the Powell and Jamieson study) thimerosal has been the subject of several studies” [a bibliography cited eight studies mostly from the 70s and 80s,] “and has a long record of safe and effective use preventing bacterial and fungal contamination of vaccines, with no ill effects established other than minor local reactions at the site of injection.” Note that the FDA does not say that studies have been done to establish the safety of mercury as a component of thimerosal but to prove its effectiveness as an antibacterial and antifungal agent. The average reader might have assumed, when reading this FDA paper about thimerosal in vaccines, that the FDA is addressing the toxic nature of mercury in thimerosal, but this is hardly the case. We know that mercury kills living creatures. What we really need to know is to what extent is it harming our children.

These eight studies not only do not prove thimerosal’s safety, they also provide evidence that by at least 1975, the FDA knew that mercury builds up in tissues, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and also crosses the placenta to the fetus. And yet, the FDA presents this study as proof of the safety of thimerosal, presumably because the abstract says that there was no “teratogenesis” or birth defects in the rabbit fetuses.

From 1930 until the 1990s, the number of vaccines increased to an incredible 20 shots by age three. In 1999, Dr. Neal Halsey of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Dr. William Egan of the Biologics Division of the FDA, in separate papers, reported on the amount of mercury a child received with standard vaccinations. By six months, the average child received 187.5 micrograms of mercury; by two years 237.5 micrograms. Broken down into the designated vaccination times the following amounts of mercury are given: at birth, 12.5 micrograms; at two months, 62.5 micrograms; at four months, 50 micrograms; at six months, 62.5 micrograms; at 15 months, 50 micrograms. Dr. Halsey has calculated the two-month dose to be “over 30 times the recommended daily maximum exposure, with babies of the smallest weight category receiving almost three months worth of daily exposures on a single day.”

Dr. Halsey testified at a 2001 Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) hearing on vaccinations. Halsey is a member of the vaccine advisory panel in charge of setting the safe limits for thimerosal in vaccines. At the IOM hearings, he admitted that the advisory panel had assumed the 0.01 percent amount of thimerosal in vaccines was sufficiently low to be safe but failed to understand that mercury is toxic at levels measured in nanograms and micrograms. He said, “I feel badly that I didn’t pick it up.” Halsey also admitted they knew little about the means of mercury elimination from an infant’s body. They did not realize that most mercury from vaccines may not be excreted but instead migrates to the brain. And they did not know whether an infant’s immature immune system could handle the insult of an injection of 62.5 micrograms of mercury on a single day.

In setting standards, the experts admitted that allowable doses of thimerosal were automatically averaged as if given in small daily amounts over a six-month period, not all on any one day. This makes the 12.5 micrograms of mercury, in a single shot of most vaccines, far in excess of the EPA “safe limit” of 0.1 micrograms per kilogram, which in the average newborn is approximately 0.4 micrograms. It is standard practice for children to receive several shots in one day.

Since those revelations that shocked the autism community, the CDC has tried to stem the outrage by declaring in November 2001 that they could find no link between vaccines and autism. The statement was false. The CDC failed to tell the public that a recently completed CDC-funded study found a 2.48 times increased risk of autism in children exposed to more than 62.5 micrograms of mercury within the first three months of life. Later, this study was released with the statistics altered to obscure the initial findings.

In February of 2004, the Institute of Medicine was criticized by SAFE MINDS and other autism groups for holding a meeting about vaccine safety before results of ongoing mercury vaccine trials had been completed. Because of the controversy with the IOM, one of those trials was rushed to online print in February 2004, two months ahead of its publication date in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Dr. Richard Deth, a professor of pharmacology at Northeastern University in Boston, along with researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Nebraska, and Tufts University in Boston, said that their study is “the first to offer an explanation for possible causes of two increasingly common childhood neurological disorders.”

The team found that two brain chemicals are key to one type of brain metabolism called methylation. However, thimerosal, ethanol and the metals lead and mercury all interfere with methylation. The researchers were especially impressed with the way thimerosal worked. It shut down methylation at doses 100 times lower than a child would receive after a single shot with a vaccine containing thimerosal. “It was by far the most potent,” says Deth.

We have our body count. We have our smoking gun. What now remains is to convince the health care system to test children who are have autistic spectrum disorder for heavy metal poisoning and begin detoxification therapies. This is a topic for a future article.

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND

Dr. Dean's not only a medical doctor, but also a naturopath, herbalist, acupuncturist, nutritionist, lecturer, consultant, author. Dr. Dean has been in the forefront of health issues for over 30 years.

Dr. Dean has authored or coauthored twenty books, including How To Change Your Life With Magnesium, Future Health Now! Encyclopaedia, Death by Modern Medicine: Seeking Safe Solutions, The Magnesium Miracle, The Yeast Connection and Women’s Health, IBS for DUMMIES, IBS Cookbook for DUMMIES and Hormone Balance.