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Autism Treatment May Do More Harm Than Good

Clinical evidence does not support use of chelation therapy, researchers find (Nov. 29)

A controversial treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not only ineffective but may be harmful, according to a study conducted by researchers at Baylor University. The treatment — chelation — attempts to eliminate metals, such as mercury, from the body.

The findings were published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“The chemical substances used in chelation treatment have a myriad of potentially serious side effects, such as fever, vomiting, hypertension, hypotension, cardiac arrhythmias, and hypocalcemia, which can cause cardiac arrest,” said study co-author Tonya N. Davis, PhD.

In one example cited in the report, a 5-year-old child with ASD died from cardiac arrest caused by hypocalcemia while receiving intravenous chelation. Moreover, a 2008 clinical study of chelation treatment for autism was suspended because of the potential safety risks associated with the procedure.

“Chelation therapy represents the 'cart before the horse' scenario, where the hypothesis supporting the use of chelation was not validated prior to using it as a form of treatment,” Davis said. “Evidence does not support the hypothesis that ASD symptoms are associated with specific levels of metals in the body."

In the study, Davis and colleagues reviewed the research findings of five published studies on chelation. In the studies, 82 participants aged 3 to 14 years received chelation treatment for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months.

Of the five studies, four showed mixed results — some positive and negative outcomes for each of the study participants — and one study showed all positive results. But after closer review, Davis and her research team found “methodological weaknesses” in the reports.

“Several studies used numerous treatments at once in addition to chelation that made it impossible to determine if the positive results could be attributed to chelation alone,” Davis said.

Ultimately, she found that the studies did not support the use of chelation as some have claimed and were “insufficient, which is the lowest level of certainty.”

“The use of chelation to remove metals from the body in order to ameliorate ASD could be seen as unfounded and illogical,” Davis remarked.

Source: Baylor University; November 29, 2012.

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