“There were incidents and accidents. There were hints and allegations . . .”
You Can Call Me Al – By Paul Simon
As my wife and I are well into our eighth year of dealing with our daughter’s seizure disorder and autism I thought I’d delve into some of the more confounding elements of this issue.
THE ROLE OF MERCURY
Although we’ve done more than forty urine toxic metals tests for Jacqueline we’ve never been able to measure more than twice the normal amount of mercury coming out of her. However, we have recorded aluminum levels at eighty times normal (one of the highest levels our doctor had ever seen), antimony at twelve times normal, lead at six times normal, tin at eighteen times normal, and uranium at twenty-eight times normal.
I’ve read articles from Dr. Boyd Haley, chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Kentucky who claims testosterone greatly increases the toxicity of mercury. Could that be why autism strikes boys at a rate of four to one compared to girls?
I’ve also read articles which claim that while autism is more common in boys, it’s generally much more severe when it strikes girls. That has certainly been my experience. Do different toxic metals affect the sexes in different ways?
The only significant article I’ve been able to find on aluminum toxicity was written by Christopher Shaw, Ph.D., from the University of British Columbia. He was investigating Gulf War Illness and wanted to see if the levels of aluminum used to stimulate the immune system in the vaccines given to our soldiers might have affected them.
Using laboratory mice Dr. Shaw found that: "Testing showed motor deficits in the aluminum treatment group that expressed as a progressive decrease in strength measured... Significant cognitive deficits in water-maze learning were observed in the combined aluminum and squalene group... Apoptotic neurons were identified in aluminum-injected animals that showed significantly increased activated caspase-3 labeling in lumbar spinal cord (255%) and primary motor cortex (192%) compared with the controls. Aluminum-treated groups also showed significant motor neuron loss (35%) and increased numbers of astrocytes (350%) in the lumbar spinal cord.”
I know he was looking at Gulf War Illness, but what would that look like in a developing child? Could my daughter been aluminum-poisoned by her vaccines rather than mercury-poisoned?
In a private e-mail with Dr. Shaw, he told me his research had opened up a can of worms because the toxicity of aluminum has received very little attention. According to Dr. Shaw, the industry’s response to the question of whether aluminum can be a health problem is that there is “pervasive uncertainty” as to the answer.
I’ve heard that as the government is removing the mercury from the vaccines, they are increasing the amount of aluminum. I understand it’s an “allegation” in the words of Paul Simon.
But as nobody is discussing the aluminum question or Dr. Shaw’s research, I am quite concerned.
THE GLUTEN-CASEIN FREE DIET
When we used the gluten-casein free diet suggested by Karyn Serrousi in her book “Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and PDD” on my daughter she threw tantrums which reduced her ABA team to tears. However, even after her tantrums ceased she didn’t get noticeably better.
However, when our son Ben started regressing after his eighteen month vaccinations, we quickly implemented the gluten-casein free diet and he returned to us after twelve days of being mute. Now he’s a typical seven-year-old who likes Pokemon, tae-kwon-do, soccer, and is at the top of his class both socially and academically.
My daughter's autism is still so severe that she can’t walk into a classroom and participate.
Why does the diet work for some and not others? Could it be that we were able to keep the mercury from settling into my son’s system, but it didn’t get rid of the aluminum in my daughter’s system? Is it a question of timing?
THE QUESTION OF VIRAL OR BACTERIAL INFECTION
The Autism Omnibus Trial focused a great deal of attention on the finding of persistent measles infection from the gut biopsy and cerebral spinal fluid of Michelle Cedillo. Dr. Andrew Wakefield is now facing disciplinary action in Great Britain based on allegations that the gut biopsies and the drawing of cerebral spinal fluid from autistic children that he performed were not medically necessary, in addition to causing unnecessary pain and discomfort to these children.
According to proponents, these tests are necessary to find a persisting measles infection. My daughter hasn’t had these tests and thus I can’t say whether or not she suffers from this type of infection. A more standard antibody test showed she had high levels of antibodies to the herpes varicella-zoster virus (Chicken pox), despite never having had Chicken pox.
Are autistic children who might present with similar symptoms subject to different viral infections? Or is it that the tests are so invasive that we haven’t had the large-scale testing necessary to determine whether this is a significant problem among our children?
One of my more reliable sources tells me that it’s an open secret that as the weakened measles virus used in the vaccines has created less of an immune response in children, the amount of measles virus used has been increased. Again, I have no way to corroborate this allegation.
My daughter’s stool samples showed a high level of streptococcus bacteria infection. We treated it aggressively with supplements suggested by my doctor and her aluminum excretion went from a range of 8-13 times normal to 80 times normal. Was the strep causing her to hold onto the aluminum?
I don’t have an answer, but the question is presented by the data.
THE QUESTION OF GENETICS AND UNBELIEVABLE COMPLEXITY
We’ve done numerous genetic tests on our daughter, and aside from the finding that she shouldn’t be using supplements with methyl or sulfur groups, there really hasn’t been a good deal of useful information provided. She doesn’t look that much different than your typical healthy person.
However, I know genetics must be part of the answer to my daughter’s problems. It was with all of this confusion I recently read the article “Our Assumptions About What Causes Chronic Diseases Could Be Wrong” by Laura Wright of OnEarth magazine.
The article detailed how Dr. Martha Herbert, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard University paired up with John Russo, the head of computer science at Wentworth Institute of Technology and father of an autistic child, to gather a group of geneticists and bioinformatists to scour the medical literature for genes which might be involved in autism.
The group then looked at genes known to respond to chemicals in the environment, then compared the two lists. They came up with more than a hundred matches for genes suspected to be implicated in autism and known to respond to chemicals in the environment.
Here’s where it all begins to sound like science fiction.
Scientists have been experimenting with “gene chips” for about a decade and these are now fairly sophisticated. These gene chips allow scientists to affix a large number of genes to what is known as a DNA micro-array. A gene’s activity is observed through the action of its RNA, the molecular messages sent out by the DNA to produce the enzymes and proteins necessary for the proper building of your organs and tissues.
Every cell in your body has the same DNA, but dependent on where it is in your body, the liver, heart, or brain for example, the RNA message sent out by that cell will be different because it needs to build different tissues or organs. You want your liver to have liver cells, your heart to have heart cells, and your brain to have brain cells.
The DNA micro-array and the ability to measure RNA allows scientists to measure the effect of certain chemicals on specific cells of the body. For example, one could analyze the effect of a certain pesticide on the gene activity in liver cells.
This young field known as “toxigenomics” has the potential to be revolutionary because it’s been found that each chemical alters the pattern of gene activity in specific ways, almost like a chemical fingerprint. In 2001 a post-doctoral researcher designed an experiment to discover exactly how mercury was interfering with the nervous and the immune system by using test tube cultures of mouse brain cells and mouse liver cells.
In the brain and liver cells there was unusual activity in the gene interleukin-6, responsible for the infection response and the direction of the development of neurons. Dr. Ellen Silbergald, a professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University and a collaborator on the study, claims that these tools will allow scientists to “go fishing” for chemical-gene interactions. Could it be that other autoimmune disorders from Grave’s disease to multiple sclerosis and lupus might be the result of a similar chemical-gene interaction?
To add another level of complexity to this picture is the fact that even among a small group of people there are often many genetic variants. Could some minor genetic differences make some people more likely to get sick from a toxic exposure?
There have already been some tantalizing findings on this question.
In a study by Patricia Buffler, dean emerita of the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley, she found that children with a certain genetic variant might be more susceptible to developing leukemia in high-traffic areas, with the likely toxic exposure being the benzene compounds of car exhausts. Another study found that women with a particular genetic variation who drink chlorinated municipal water have an increased likelihood of giving birth to underweight babies.
The British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington is quoted as saying “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”
I can’t tell you I know why my daughter had excreted large amounts of aluminum and not mercury. I can’t tell you exactly how that aluminum may have affected her nervous system. I don’t know what viral and bacterial infections she may currently have. I can’t even tell you why the RNA supplement we’re now using appears to be holding her seizures at bay after five years of running riot through her nervous system.
But I know there is an answer.
And even though there is still so much I don’t fully understand I will keep looking for that answer.
Kent Heckenlively has worked as an attorney, television producer, and is now a beloved science teacher.