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By David Kirby
REMARKS AND SLIDE PRESENTATION BY DAVID KIRBY
2009 Autism One Conference, Chicago
I first want to say that this conference was described by The New York Times as “an anti-vaccine conference.” And, you know, when I read that I actually laughed out loud. And I thought, “What would you even do at an anti-vaccine conference, anyway?” And I know there are some people in this audience who are anti-vaccine, and they have that right. I just don’t happen to be one of those people.
The reason I get upset at being called “anti-vaccine” is that, A), it’s untrue, and B), I do think vaccines are important. And I think we can vaccinate more safely than we do in this country. But the label is used as a weapon. It is used as a tool against people like me. And even though it’s a lie, it is so much easier to dismiss somebody if you think that they’re anti-vaccine. “He’s a kook. He’s a nut. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
And now we’re into the rhetoric that has gotten so heated that people like me are called “pro-disease.” It’s like Karl Rove is writing the playbook for these people. Because it’s gotten that political, it’s gotten that nasty. So, I’m going to fight back against that label.
This is not an “anti-vaccine conference.” There’s a discussion tonight about athletics in autism, and one on relationships in autism.
And we are here to talk about a lot more than vaccines. And that’s sort of the theme of my speech, too. Because for quite a while now, I have believed there are many, many different ways to get to what we call “autism.” And I think we really need to step back from vaccines, we need to step back from Thimerosal, we need to step back from MMR and other specific vaccine components. We need to work backwards and look at the world in its entirety. We need to look at food, air, water, and medicine. And by medicine, yes, that would include vaccines.
Now, the Obama administration just announced they’re going to have a national meeting on toxins; and how toxins affect people. And that’s exactly where I think this conversation should go. I’m ready for a little middle ground. I’m really tired of the screaming back and forth, you know. We need to find out what’s making these kids sick. And I think there’s more consensus now that something in the environment or some things in the environment are contributing to that.
So let’s look at those things in a more general sense. And that’s where - I think - it gets really, really interesting, and where we may find some common ground in science - that there are things in nature that are triggers for autism. I truly believe there are things in the environment that can trigger autism that have nothing to do with vaccines.
I am just a journalist, I’m a layperson, so I view things in a slightly different way than scientists. And I have the luxury of doing that because I get to, you know, play around with theories a little bit, ask different kinds of questions and try to see connections between different things.
And when I look at the situation, I think we’ve moved way past thimerosal as the one and only cause of autism. And I’ve just picked three possible routes – Metals, Myelin & Mitochondria - that we’ll be talking about tonight. Now, you could make up a very, very long list of potential pathways to autism. But what’s so interesting about these three pathways -- and remember, this is all just theory, this is just me, kind of musing out loud -- is that they’re found in the natural environmental, or the man-made environment, and they’re also found in vaccines.
The other thing that’s interesting about these three things is they’re interactive. So you might have metals as a contributing factor to autism, but you can’t separate that entirely from the fact that metals can also destroy myelin. Metals can destroy mitochondria. They’re all interrelated. And I think that we should look at ALL metals. And I think one reason that we haven’t looked at all metals is because two of those metals happen to be aluminum and mercury, and those metals also happen to appear in childhood vaccines. If there never was mercury in vaccines, I can pretty much state that we would be much further along at this point in researching heavy metals in autism.
The same with live viruses. Measles virus can affect myelin as a matter of fact. Well, there is live measles virus in the MMR vaccine. Maybe that’s one reason why there’s been some reluctance to look more carefully into how viruses might be triggers of autism.
And the same is true of mitochondrial dysfunction and overstimulation of the immune system – all sorts of things can happen in that situation. And it does happen in nature - a lot. But talk with Jon and Teri Poling, and you’ll find out it can also happen when you give a child nine vaccines in one day.
So maybe what it might take to try to find some middle ground and move research forward is to just put - even for a day - vaccines aside. And let’s just look at metals. And let’s just look at myelin damage – what can damage myelin. And let’s look at mitochondria - and many, many other things.
But I am here to discuss these three things. And, I am not here to give you any answers. I don’t have any answers. My job is to ask the questions. I also draw no conclusions. But my message to you is this: If I were running the show, and if I were dishing out the research dollars, these are some of the areas that I would be pursuing, posthaste. And if I were a scientist, these are some of the things that I would be wanting to study with federal money, including some money coming into the NIH right now.
I know you’ve probably heard a lot of this stuff today, and in the past, but I just want to go over some of these things. Because I think the problem has been, we’ve been trying to look at Thimerosal in this country, and in the UK they’ve been looking at MMR, and trying to make it fit, trying to make every single child, every single autism case, be caused by that one thing and it’s not working, it’s not happening.
And instead of looking at the causes and trying to track them to the effects, I think we need to look at the effects and then go back and try to see what things in the environment might cause those effects -- particularly in combination with genetic predispositions.
And we’re getting this new vocabulary. I mean, none of these words I knew even a couple of years ago, and I’ve been at this for about five years now. Well, maybe I knew some of these words, but much of this terminology, in terms of autism, is fairly new. And when we look at the kids who actually got sick, when we look at the molecular level, the cellular level, when we look in the clinics, we notice a lot of symptoms that a lot of these children suffer from.
And the immune system is often the first thing that we notice. Now, it’s important to note that not all kids have immune problems. And not all kids have gut problems. Not all kids have central nervous system problems. So it seems like they’ve gone through different pathways to get to this general constellation of symptoms that we call “autism.” And we often see immune activation, and sometimes we see simultaneously immune suppression, and sometimes autoimmunity, going on at the same time.
You’ve heard an awful lot about oxidative stress, and we’re now learning ways that these things are all interrelated with each other, as well: Neuro-inflammation; rapid brain growth; activation of certain brain cells that causes swelling of the brain that we see in autism.
Then there’s glutathione – Dr. Haley spoke about it quite a bit - I think glutathione is going to turn out to be one of the most important things in the 21st century that we have in terms of detoxification, and living in our increasingly polluted environment. We as humans are going to have to adapt, but we can’t do it on our own, and we need some help. And I honestly believe that glutathione is a powerful detoxifier. And we know that children with autism have very low levels of glutathione - which then would lead to certain things, including mitochondrial damage, heavy metal accumulation, neuro-inflammation, oxidative stress, etcetera.
Metal metabolism disorder is the inability to excrete metals to which we are exposed. Most people have enough glutathione and other sulfur-based proteins that allow us to excrete our heavy metals through feces, urine, hair and sweat. But if you don’t have the ability to bind those metals, you won’t excrete them and they will accumulate in your body and in your organs.
There is research into glial cells, microglial cells. In the work of Thomas Burbacher we’ll see a very important role that metals might play in this whole picture of the brain.
We also see cytokine imbalances in people with autism, and we know that can be caused through heavy metal exposures, etcetera.
We’ll talk quickly about the methionine cycle, the destruction of that cycle can then interrupt a process called methylation.
Methylation is absolutely essential for production of myelin and production of glutathione. So if you have a methylation problem, you will probably be producing less glutathione. If you have less glutathione, you are most surely at risk for heavy metal accumulation, oxidative stress, etc.
Demyelination is when your myelin is weakened. Mylein is the fatty acid substance that coats the brain and the nerve connections in our body.
Vitamin D deficiency - and this is fairly new, that is, from my point of view, so I can’t speak to it too much - but I believe that vitamin D is a very important factor in producing glutathione in the liver. And I do know there’s a lot of problems with vitamin D deficiency today. And when I was looking into the situation with the Somalis in Minnesota, and the Somali ethnicity, they tend to have a genetic predisposition toward vitamin D deficiency. And a lot of the Somali women, when they moved to Minnesota, they had severe morning sickness while pregnant, which is a sign of severe vitamin D deficiency. And of course, if you move from an equatorial country with lots of sunshine, to Minnesota, in the far north where three, four, five months of the year you’re barely getting any sunlight at all, your vitamin D deficiency is going to be even more acute.
Then finally, there’s calcium – calcium channeling. Again, all of a sudden I was trying to keep up, you know, in the last couple days before I came here. But there’s a brand new study out that implicated a calcium-related genetic mutation that is more common in boys, and they think there’s some connection now between that and autism. Well, calcium channeling is very, very important for the function of nerve cells and brain cells. And guess what interferes with calcium channeling? Heavy metals - as just one example.
So, I’m just going to talk about those three tonight and we’ll how they interact – Metals, Myelin, Mitochondria.
When we talk about metals, we have to look at them all. As you probably know, there are two different kinds of mercury. There’s inorganic mercury which comes out of coal-fired power plants. It is not quite as destructive, as they say, as organic mercury, which is found in fish in the form of methylmercury, and it’s found in vaccines in the form of ethylmercury, which is manufactured.
I mentioned aluminum. It is used in vaccines as an adjuvant to increase, to boost the immune response to the vaccine. Aluminum in and of itself is neurotoxic. Aluminum is very damaging to mitochondria. And aluminum is synergistic with mercury. So if you have aluminum in your vaccine and even a trace amount of mercury, even if it’s just half a microgram, and if it’s mixed with aluminum, the toxic effect of that is going to be much greater. And we have seen more vaccines come online with aluminum in them, and we’ve also seen some vaccines actually increase the amount of aluminum that they have in them.
Arsenic – and my new book is on factory farming, industrial animal production. And just today I’ve been writing up a big section on chickens. And I was researching arsenic. They feed arsenic to chickens, I don’t know if you know that. It makes them grow faster. It also give their skin a nice pigmentation. Well, the government says that they test the chicken, that there’s no arsenic in chicken. That’s simply not true. And the federal limit for arsenic is 10 parts per billion. And I just saw a chart today – and some chicken has up to 40 parts per billion. So there is a lot of arsenic in our food, and it’s just something to think about. Again – food, air, water, medicine. We’re exposed to heavy metals in a large number of ways.
Antimony is a flame retardant that we’re finding in American women’s breast milk. Lead, tin, and cadmium, for some reason – I’ve seen a lot of chelation charts of kids with autism and for some reason they seem to be very elevated in cadmium. And more often times they’re elevated in arsenic as well.
Now, people keep saying there’s never been any evidence to support a link between thimerosal or mercury and autism. This was a preliminary study done by the CDC. And what they did was, they took the kids and they split them in half. Kids who got 25 micrograms or more by 1 month of age, and kids who got less than that by 1 month of age. And they found out that the kids in the higher exposure group were 7.6 times more likely to have autism, and much more likely to have ADD, ADHD, tics, etc.
And by the way, every thimerosal study that’s looked at tics has found an increased risk for tics. And we may think of tics as mild, well, tics can be really, really bad. And if you have phonic and motor tics, you have Tourette’s syndrome, and that can lead to learning disabilities that will cause problems later on in life. So to say that thimerosal “just” causes tics, I think, is an extreme understatement.
So, this went through five different generations over 4 years, and in the end the CDC came out and said “No, there is no association between Thimerosal and autism.” And they essentially just stopped looking at it. This is all described heavily in my book; you may have seen it before.
I mentioned efflux disorder earlier, and I mentioned sulfur, and I mentioned glutathione. There are a lot of children with autism who apparently have depleted levels of glutathione. Now, glutathione belongs to a class of proteins called “thiols.” And the synonym for thiol is “mercaptan,” which comes from the Latin “mercurium captans” or literally “capturing mercury.” And it would stand to reason that if you inject mercury into a kid who doesn’t have mercury capturers, he’s going to react differently to that metal than the kid who does have mercury capturers.
So this would explain a certain genetic predisposition whereby certain children suffer from a lack of glutathione, a lack of other sulfur-based proteins, and are therefore more susceptible to metal accumulation. When we look at chelating drugs such as DMPS, we see the “M” in that stands for “mercaptan.” So we want to have mercaptans in our body. By the way, glutathione is also a very powerful antioxidant. So not only does it prevent metal accumulation, it prevents oxidative stress as well.
Dr. Jill James showed that children with autism have low levels of glutathione. In fact, they have low markers for everything in what’s called the “Methionine Cycle.” She tried to get the production of glutathione back to normal. She tried to get the methionine cycle running back to normal. She first started out with folinic acid and betaine; when she added methyl B-12 to the cocktail she found she could get all of these kids’ metabolites back to normal. And there’s at least anecdotal evidence that the clinical symptoms in many of them improved. And I certainly know a lot of parents who tried methyl B-12 on their children, and report remarkable results.
And here is some of the science behind that. Methylation is the transfer of a methyl group from one molecule to another. It happens billions of times a day in our bodies, all over throughout our system. And this is the “Methionine Cycle” right here. It takes homocysteine and - right here is the act of methylation, where this methyl group is joined using things like this enzyme, methionine synthase, methyl B-12, betaine, choline – you can see it all right there.
And then it is methylated and it becomes methionine. Well, that methionine now has an extra methyl group, a donor group, that can be donated off for other purposes. So then the methionine, if you follow it down, some of these methyl groups are then donated off on this branch for the methylation of DNA and RNA, proteins, membranes, phospholipids. In other words, the production of myelin and neurotransmitters – the synapses.
So methylation is absolutely essential for gene expression, for, in fact, a lot of the functions involved with learning, memory, attention, are all down in here. This, by the way, is the mitochondrial cycle.
What Dr. Richard Deth and others have shown is that thimerosal and mercury, right here, in certain children with certain mutations in the MTHFR gene - or excuse me, at least in the test tube – certain mutations in that gene block production of methionine synthase in the presence of mercury, and therefore interrupt methylation.
Now, I didn’t take you all the way through this, but the rest of those methyl groups, they end up back as homocysteine. Half of that homocysteine is taken up again and re-methylated back to methionine. But the other half is sent down the “Transsulfuration Pathway.”
This is how the body produces thiols – sulfur-based proteins. That homocysteine turns in to cysteine, and it ends up eventually as glutathione. If you aren’t producing glutathione, you can buy a product called NAC, which stands for N-acetyl-cysteine.. Well you can see cysteine is a precursor to glutathione.
So just to go back again, let’s say you have that genetic predisposition, that mutation in your MTHFR gene, and let’s say you were exposed to Thimerosal, maybe your first day of life when you get your hepatitis B shot. And let’s say that Thimerosal blocks production of Methionine Synthase. And all of a sudden, you stop or greatly reduce methylation. You’ve then reduced the amount of methionine.
James showed that kids with autism have less methionine. They have fewer donor groups to be donated off into these functions. And they’re going to end up eventually with less glutathione, which leaves them more susceptible to oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage and heavy metal accumulation. So when that kid comes back at his two-month visit, and used to get three shots containing mercury, you can see how this cycle would perpetuate. The more mercury you got, the more vulnerable you became to mercury and to many other things.
I mentioned the immune system, and it’s interesting to note – again, as a journalist I’d say, “That’s interesting. Thimerosal can cause certain immune imbalances.”
And then, when we look at children with autism, we see that they have certain immune imbalances including, again, increased autoimmunity, cytokine activity, unusual cytokine imbalances, and a disturbance in the TH-1/TH-2 immune responses, the antibody versus the humoral response. And again, it all may add up to nothing, but if I were a scientist, I would want to look at the immune imbalances in children with autism, and then I would look at the studies of heavy metals and immune imbalances and I would try to see if there was some kind of connection there. I don’t see why it’s so crazy to raise these questions.
Dr. Thomas Burbacher at the University of Washington took methylmercury, found in fish, and ethylmercury, found in vaccines. He took infant primates; half of them got methylmercury in a feeding tube, as if they were eating fish. The other half got injected with ethylmercury, replicating the childhood schedule. Now, the conventional wisdom has always been that methylmercury stays in the bloodstream longer; and methylmercury crosses the blood-brain barrier more readily. And Burbacher showed that, yes indeed, that was true. What happened was when the press release went out, that’s all that got put into the story. So when you read the article the next day it said, “Mercury in fish is very, very bad. Mercury in vaccines is not so bad.”
But what the story left out was that what Burbacher found was, yes, more methylmercury got into the brain. But organic mercury has a natural transport mechanism to wash into the brain, and wash out of the brain. The half-life for organic mercury in the brain - whether it’s ethyl or methyl, is about 30 days. The half life for inorganic mercury is something like 20 years. So if you have inorganic mercury in your brain, that’s really bad.
And what Burbacher found was that the ethylmercury was much more unstable. And the ethylmercury that did get into the brain began to break down and convert into inorganic mercury very quickly. Once it’s inorganic, it gets stuck there. It doesn’t wash out the way the methyl did. So he actually found that the vaccine-exposed monkeys had up to 4 times more inorganic mercury deposits in their brain than the methyl-exposed monkeys. And in fact, half of the methyl-exposed monkeys had no inorganic deposits at all.
Now this is where it gets really interesting, in my opinion. Burbacher showed in a previous study that those inorganic deposits in the brain start a reaction within the brain, and an immune reaction, and they tend to get deposited in the cells called astrocytes, which you heard about earlier tonight, and microglial cells. And he found that these cells become activated. Well, that is how neuroinflammation occurs; that’s how brain swelling occurs, at least in part through activation of the glial cells. And Burbacher found that sure enough, these deposits of inorganic mercury can activate these glial cells and presumably cause neuroinflammation.
Also very interesting about this, sometimes it took up to 6 months or more after the exposure for those cells to become activated. So you can see a delayed reaction with mercury toxicity and brain damage.
Now, when we look at the autopsied brains of people with autism, we find a lot of the same mechanisms that Burbacher found in his studies on the monkeys.
At Johns Hopkins they found inflammation in these brains, and they found activation of astroglia and microglia. The inflammation was apparently associated with activation of the brain’s immune system, and compared with controls, this was an ongoing inflammation in various sections of the brain.
And at Harvard, when Dr. Martha Herbert and her team looked at the brains of autopsied patients, they found neuro-inflammation, oxidative stress, microglia damage, chronic disease. And the cause may be “chronic disease or external environment sources,” such as heavy metals. And they wrote, “oxidative stress, brain inflammation, and microgliosis has been much documented in association with heavy metal exposures.”
So you’ve just seen a possible route: A child who has depletion in glutathione; a child that’s exposed to mercury; a child who can’t methylate it and can’t excrete that mercury. It’s going to go somewhere. Some of it gets into the brain. It converts into inorganic mercury. It deposits in the microglia. It starts oxidative stress and neuro-inflammation.
Now, this is all proof of absolutely nothing. I’m drawing zero conclusions here. I’m just saying that if I were doling out the cash, I would give somebody a big, fat grant to study this. And I don’t understand why we aren’t rushing to study this. Something’s going on in these autistic brains, and it sure looks an awful lot like what’s going on in the brains of those mercury-exposed monkeys.
Continued in Part Two.