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Study Warns Of Chelation Therapy Risks


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New research is questioning the effectiveness and safety of a controversial autism therapy.

The approach called chelation is designed to remove heavy metals from the body. While popular in some circles as a method to treat autism, chelation has been widely criticized as well.

Now, in a new review of existing studies on the practice, researchers say that chelation is not only unproven, but may also be unsafe.

“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,” said Tonya Davis of Baylor University who co-authored the analysis published in next month’s issue of the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. “Evidence does not support the hypothesis that ASD symptoms are associated with specific levels of metals in the body.”

For the review, Davis and her colleagues analyzed five published studies looking at 82 people ages 3 to 14 who received chelation treatment. Despite mixed or positive findings in all of the studies reviewed, the research team found methodological flaws throughout the existing science. In many cases, for example, study participants were trying several treatments in addition to chelation making it unclear what attributed to any success they experienced.

Meanwhile, the review notes that side effects of chelation include fever, vomiting and hypertension. There is also a risk of cardiac arrest with the treatment.

“While I understand a parent’s desire to try anything and everything that may help their child, as a researcher, it is difficult to watch a family spend time, money and resources on interventions that research has found to be ineffective, or worse, potentially dangerous,” Davis said.

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Comments (10 Responses)

  1. Tacitus says:

    Finally! Hopefully this mercury religion will begin losing followers. Well, I suppose it’ll have to die slow, that’s how religion works, but eventually people will have to stop joining, right?

  2. vmgillen says:

    Amen ;-)

  3. Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    According to the abstract, only one of the five studies showed a significant effect for children with ASD. The problems appear to be related to a low number of children in the studies. The review finds no evidence of ASD caused by heavy metals. Another issue is important here, however, and that is the question of any child benefiting from reduction of heavy metals in the body. Are we to ignore high levels of heavy metals?

  4. Glen S says:

    This is a positive development, but keep in mind it is a limited review of existing data about a treatment not the underlying causes of Autism. Good science continues to review existing methodology to determine if they are effective.

    As to the assertion that heavy metal causation is a “religion.” This quote from a previous poster is must more insulting language from a single “identity theorist.”

  5. KA101 says:

    My understanding is that chelation gets recommended without first checking for the presence of heavy metals in the body. So, whilst heavy-metal toxicity isn’t a good thing, it’s not as though everyone dosed with chelating drugs actually had something to chelate out of their system.

    And I am duly appreciative of a metastudy on chelation. Though it points out a similar problem to the one that found SI wasn’t well-supported either, I’m sure both can be more rigorously studied in the future. There are some graduate students in the pipeline who could use research projects (and, of course, the funding to go with).

    Thanks for your time.

    -KA101, an autistic who finds people insisting on autism being a result of mercury toxicity amusing at best, and empathizes* with Tacitus

    *”And just 5 seconds ago, you *knew* that autistics couldn’t have empathy. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.” -after Agent K, Men In Black

  6. Zoe says:

    Chelation is wrong! It will not “cure” us, Autism is not a disease, therefore there is no “cure” for it. Such “therapy” has killed children and will most likely kill more, it is dangerous and should never have been used on my community! Say no to chelation!

  7. Wayne Rohde says:

    What a crock. I know of several families in Oklahoma, Texas, and Minnesota that have experienced tremendous results from chelation including my son. When administered properly, many of the heavy metals are excreted from the body. As per pre and post labs indicate. Chelation has been around for over 65 years to help those with lead and zinc poising. This is just another attempt to dirty the water for those who have tried chelation. it is not for everyone. And their conclusion logic is faulty. They concentrate on the 2% that have problems and try to make those specific cases speak as a general statement.

  8. Glen S says:

    Zoe: You might want to present your data before you go around make assertions that individuals have and continue to die from a particular treatment.

    As to your comment that Autism is not a disease; therefore has not “cure.” “Cure” is a strong word for it. As stated many times, multiple disabilities have medical or bio-chemical causes and have treatments which lessen or even eliminate the outward effects of the disability.

    What is it about the adults with autism on this and other forums that they want today’s or tomorrow’s children to have the same painful experiences they might have experiences as they?

    Again, pouring money into permanent services is ineffective and unsustainable.

  9. KA101 says:


    -If I wanted young autistics to go through the hell that I did? I wouldn’t have become a lawyer.

    -If I wanted young autistics to go through the hell that I did? I’d advocate for school vouchers so that we didn’t have to enforce the IDEA. (Laws for disabled people don’t *really* matter!)

    -If I wanted young autistics to go through the hell that I did? I’d pay for interminable & invasive studies that look for ways to detect autism, so that the kid can be taught that xyr way of being is Wrong and must be suppressed for the convenience of nonautistics.

    -If I wanted young autistics to go through the hell that I did? I’d insist that autistics can’t possibly understand their ways of existing and must depend on nonautistics to tell them how they ought to think.

    -If I wanted young autistics to go through the hell that I did? I’d publish articles sympathizing with parents who murdered their autistic children.

    Kindly don’t insult us like that again.

  10. Glen S says:

    KA101: You and the “autism identity” advocates can make all the claims you want about being the true advocates of individuals with autism and developmental disabilities in general. The truth is that your influence is limited to sites such as this. And why is that? Because the majority of parents recognize that their children must live in the greater society. While they are not slaves to other “stakeholders,” they must refrain from the kind of vitriol of which some are guilty here and other sites.

    Your stance is without merit and, by definition, fallacious. But to refute your points one by one:

    Point 1: Again with the passe language; but more importantly, your discussions and your strongest advocacy is for identity theory as stated above and for the wants of high functioning adults. You seem to have little concern for the actual medical or educational needs of children with moderate to severe disabilities.

    Point 2: As stated before, as if the government public schools have a great track record willingly or successfully implementing IDEA.

    Point 3: Invasive? How so? I child having a tantrum in the middle of a “big box” is an immediate issue, and behavioral methods of immediately dealing with the situation are important. It is not a matter of “wrong” or right. It is a matter of functioning in the greater society.

    Point 4: Actually, you do spend the majority of your post advocating that all other “stack holders” must yield to the wants and sometimes needs of a sub-sect, and do so without any input as to effective and meaningful methods.

    Point 5: Really? Not exactly sure how to respond to hysteria.

    Don’t you think it is about time to stop advocating both sides of the street? The majority of individuals with disabilities and their advocates actually agree with a middle of the road advocacy in which the needs (not wants) of all stack holders is taken into account.

    And the good will which individuals with disabilities have enjoyed for the better part of 3 decades is being squandered by blatant, “in your face” mentality.

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