By Dan Olmsted
We've had a fascinating back-and-forth during the past couple of weeks over how to apportion the causes of the autism epidemic. It started with a comment by Tony Bateson of Birmingham, England, that I posted in the From the Editor column:
"We are still banging on around the thousands of complexities facing both sides of the argument as to whether vaccines are linked to autism. And yet I still await an answer to my question posed at the Vaccine conference of November 2002 'where are the unvaccinated autistic kids?'. Please someone tell me, I haven't been able to find them in the UK and no organisation seeks to disabuse me of the notion that they don't exist. What goes on here? It is as though there is an extra dimension where people can endless argue the issue whilst no link exists to the reality."
I followed up with a narrower question: "Is there any evidence that anything but mercury causes anything but an insignificant fraction of the autism epidemic? In other words, but for mercury poisoning, would 'autism' really exist? Anyone?"
What followed was the kind of crowd-sourced -- i.e., reader-led -- comment thread that to me is the glory of Age of Autism. People with all kinds of experiences and observations weighed in and provided the broad overview and specific detail that makes it possible to refine some answers. (My friend and now Northern Virginia neighbor Josie Nelson, who first expressed keen insights related to all this when we met in Minneapolis in 2010, has added some comments, noted in parentheses. Thanks, Josie!)
First of all, vaccination cannot account for every single case of autism, bar none. We all already know this, I think, because there are enough credible reports of never-vaccinated children with clearly documented diagnoses to show "autism" -- neurological damage during infancy (or in utero) that results in a characteristic syndrome of behavior and, often, physical ailments -- is not exclusive to vaccination. But there aren't many such cases, and it can be very hard in a finite group and time period to find any, as Tony Bateson's comment shows. (The Amish and Mayer Eisenstein's Homefirst practice in Chicago are two more cohorts in which there are tens of thousands of never-vaccinated children and little evidence of autism in those children -- certainly nothing on the magnitude of 1 in 88.)
Second, mercury alone is not the sole cause, as many of you who witnessed regression so quickly after the MMR vaccine, in particular, can testify.
But both Tony's question, and mine, point to what I believe is the truth: the autism epidemic is the result of vaccination; mercury both within and without vaccination can be identified as a likely suspect, providing us a key insight into the toxic nature of the disorder. The fact that it falls in the middle of my sketch above, and connects both kinds of exposure, vaccine and environmental, is apt.
(Josie Nelson adds: We also need to pay attention to the way that aluminum (over)stimulates the immune system and can instigate an auto-immune cascade … and the way that that auto-immune cascade can be exacerbated in the presence of a live virus (i.e. multiple vaccinations at once, particularly a live virus vaccine and a killed cell virus vaccine with aluminum adjuvant at once). We all know that the so-called safety studies have never looked at what happens when you give two vaccines together … let alone two different TYPES of vaccines. This is a huge piece in my mind … the aluminum is an immune stimulant. That’s its stated purpose. When you are purposefully stimulating an immune response without any regard to the state of the individual immune system you are stimulating and you introduce a live virus into that scenario at the very same time, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to imagine what possible (or even likely) results can ensue. I also think ASD tends to look different depending on what hits occurred. The mito kids look different from the mercury kids in part because there are (by and large -- oversimplifying here to make my point) different toxins at play.
(Deisher’s research on human DNA contamination and her excellent change point analysis data is a political landmine I know (whatever side of the legalized abortion issue one happens to be on). But leaving politics aside for the moment, and speaking of auto-immune potential, inserting residual human DNA into a person while stimulating that person’s immune system by other means (aluminum, formaldehyde, MSG) seems like such an obvious area of concern. According to Deisher there is more residual human DNA in varicella vaccine than there is varicella. Deisher’s research points to the residual DNA hitting the known ‘hot spots’ on the DNA the areas more susceptible to breakage.)
Someone is surely going to say, but what about genes? Well, what about them? To say there may be a genetic vulnerability to autism is basically to say that it is a disorder acquired by individual human beings. Most of the genetic variability noted in autism (see Jill James) has to do with how effectively toxins are excreted. In a few cases where autism is said to be due to "known" genetic causes -- Down syndrome, say, or tuberous sclerosis -- not every child with those conditions develops autism, suggesting a decisive (and I suspect toxic) co-factor. Add to that the virtual absence of autism before the 1930s -- a time when many genetic disorders were already well-characterized -- and you have a non-starter of a hypothesis, though one that still attracts the lion's share of autism research money.
Plus there's the fact that toxins can cause epigenetic changes. So toxins damage genes that may contribute to autism? That's not a genetic cause.
Forget genes. But for toxic exposures, there would be no autism epidemic.
Bernie Rimland put it to me this way not long before he died: Vaccines do not cause every case of autism, but they have indeed caused the autism epidemic. Exactly what portion is uncertain, but it is fair to say that the strongest case for the rise of autism can be made for overvaccination, period. I certainly believe it's the big majority. A doctor who worked closely with Bernie told me not long ago they believe vaccination probably accounts for 30 percent of all autism cases -- in other words, a substantial minority, with the largest effect due to other medical interventions, including antibiotics, and environmental toxins from food to pollution. So, in my little sketch above, you could draw the ENV circle bigger and the VAX circle smaller. (Or vice versa.) It's not meant to be proportional, just to indicate the circles of causation and the fact they connect, with mercury a clear instance.
(From Josie: Such a low number (vaccines causing 30 percent of autism) does not account for some of the more nuanced (difficult to isolate) ways that vaccines impact. This is a vast global experiment unlike any we’ve ever conducted. The generation of women giving birth today is the first generation of women to be fully vaccinated. And by the way we know that epigenetic changes persist across multiple generations. Let’s say you have a child with autism and everyone agrees that vaccines were not a primary cause -- or perhaps the child was even unvaccinated. While you were looking at environmental triggers and amalgam load and light-bulb exposures, you would still (in my view) have to take a long hard look at the parents before you could conclude that vaccines were not a cause of that child’s autism. Not just the flu shot mom was encouraged to get while pregnant, but the fact that women who are giving birth today simply cannot confer the kind of natural immunity onto their children that previous generations could have conferred. The generation of women giving birth today is the first generation of fully vaccinated mothers. No one has studied that. No one. If I were a guessing woman I’d guess more than 30%.)
Some people think we're vaccine-centric, but the strongest argument in our book, The Age of Autism -- Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic, is for autism as an environmental illness, broadly defined. Mark Blaxill and I found evidence of background exposure, in the first 11 families described in Leo Kanner's landmark 1943 paper, to newly commercialized ethyl mercury compounds.
How strong is this evidence? The smoking gun is case 2: Frederick L. Wellman, a plant pathologist for the U.S. government who was experimenting with organic mercury fungicides at the very same time his son Frederick III, known as Creighton, was born in 1936.
Here, from the archives of North Carolina State University, where he taught in later years, is the father's own typewritten resume showing him "dusting" organic mercury on seeds. [the handwritten marks are ours].
A pamphlet in his archive showed the dust was Ceresan, the new ethyl mercury fungicide. The research could not have been before the 1930s, because Ceresan did not exist before then, so the evidence is inescapable: The father of Case 2 was "dusted" with a new ethyl mercury compound as his son was conceived, born, and in infancy. A son who would be diagnosed with a new disorder that differed "markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far," as Kanner, the dean of child psychiatry, wrote.
Oh, and the father of Case 3 was a forestry professor whom we connected with proximity to an ethyl mercury wood preservative before his son was born in 1937.
This, friends, is a big friggin' deal -- enough, in my opinion, to justify yanking every mercury-containing vaccine right now, worldwide -- and it has nothing to do with vaccination! (That's what agricultural regulators did, banning mercury outright from pesticides by the 1970s. Go figure.)
The implications of mercury as a cause of autism go well beyond Hg itself -- mercury is a major clue, as well as a major cause. Logic would dictate, for example, that if the toxic metal mercury in and out of vaccines can cause autism, the use of another toxic metal in vaccines -- namely, aluminum -- should provoke immediate concern.
In other words, it can be mercury, but it doesn't have to be.
In our book, we quoted Mark Noble of the University of Rochester, "It is impossible to overstate the implications for epidemiology of the idea that a toxicant may be sufficient but not necessary for disease pathogenesis, for what this hypothesis [that different exposures can cause the same effect] means is that a study that fails to demonstrate association with a particular substance cannot be taken as evidence that the substance does not contribute. It just means that such a contribution cannot be isolated sufficiently from other influences to be recognized among the other substances to whicn individuals in the study are exposed."
So does the MMR cause autism? Yes, and the child's background level of mercury, aluminum or another toxicant, from earlier vaccines or other sources altogether, may be a decisive co-factor in many cases. And that may mean that a study of the MMR alone, and autism, may not kick up the signal that the same study would if it looked for the elevated presence of other known neurotoxicants.
The child in that 1943 study whose father was a forestry professor also got a smallpox shot at age 1, after which he got ill and about the time that, in his mother's recollection, he seemed to regress. His background level of exposure to organic mercury and other new toxicants through his father's profession may well have set him up for the first documented live-virus vaccine regression.
Vaccination. Mercury. The Environment.
The point is that from the beginning of the natural history of autism, these were obvious overlapping vectors, interacting with each other in all kinds of ways we simply don't understand and have never bothered, at this late date, to study. This is a far cry from the NIH/Autism Speaks nonsense about genes, and the epidemic denial we get from so many sources these days.
There is an epidemic. Vaccines, mercury and toxicologically relevant compounds, and the environment are the causes. The truth is evident, and it needs to break through into the general public sooner rather than later to prevent more cases and more subtle damage like ADHD, diabetes and all the rest, and to help sick kids.
It's not really that complicated. You can just about spell it out on the back of an envelope.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of AgeOfAutism.com.