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Study: Alternative Autism Treatment Unlikely to Be Effective

Topical metal-binding agents are not absorbed (Nov. 13)

Metal-binding agents rubbed into the skin, prescribed by some alternative practitioners for the treatment of autism, are not absorbed and therefore are unlikely to be effective at helping the body excrete excess mercury, according to a study published online in the Journal of Medical Toxicology.

Metal-binding agents, such as 2,3-dimercaptopropane-1-sulfonate (DMPS), have received significant attention in recent decades amid the controversy over the link between mercury and autism. Even though no causal relationship between mercury in vaccines and autism has been proven, some practitioners treat their patients with mercury-binding agents in an effort to help the body eliminate mercury and to treat the autism. One of these agents is a formulation of DMPS that is applied to the skin. DMPS is approved in Europe for the treatment of heavy- metal toxicity but is not approved for use in the U.S.

Researchers looked at whether topically applied DMPS is absorbed into the body by measuring levels in the blood at 30, 60, 90, 120, and 240 minutes after application. They also measured whether DMPS applied to the skin leads to increased excretion of mercury in the urine at 12 and 24 hours after application. In the study, eight healthy adult volunteers and one control subject ingested oral DMPS, which is proven to increase mercury excretion.

None of the urine samples collected from the healthy subjects contained detectable DMPS at any time point. Moreover, DMPS was not detected in 40 of 41 blood samples. A single sample was found to have a small amount of DMPS, which the authors considered to be contamination. The control subject given oral DMPS had increased levels of DMPS in the blood at every time point as well as detectable DMPS in the urine. In addition, topical application of DMPS did not lead to increased mercury excretion, whereas oral intake led to a six-fold increase.

Dr. Michelle Ruha concludes: "This is the first study of an expensive, non–FDA-approved medication that is advertised on the internet and used on children to treat autism. Our results show that the drug is not absorbed and does not work as a metal-binding agent when applied to the skin."

Source: Springer; November 13, 2012.

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