Autism and Mercury
Its been one of the biggest health controversies of recent years. Does mercury cause autism? Thousands of parents believe their child has been poisoned by mercury in vaccinations yet doctors says there is no evidence of a link between autism and mercury. What are the facts about mercury and autism?
Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal. It used to be known as Quicksilver, a reference to mercury rare ability to be liquid at room temperature, and has fascinated philosophers, alchemists and researchers throw out history.
The dangers of mercury were not spotted until the mid-18th century when it was used in the process of making felt hats. The workers making the hats fell ill with tremors, emotional lability, insomnia, dementia and hallucinations. Eventually the process was banned but not before it had given us the phrase "Mad as a hatter".
It was the symptoms of mercury poisoning and apparent the similarities to autism that gave raise the idea that mercury and autism were related. However the mercury / autism connection did not hit the big time until it was linked with vaccines.
One of the properties of mercury is its ability to act as a preservative or antiseptic when in the form of Thimerosal. This compound is about 49% mercury and is used in vaccines to extend their shelf-life. The majority of scientists and doctors agree that the mercury contained in Thimerosal is too small to pose a health risk, pointing out the difference between Ethyl Mercury and Methyl Mercury. However in the late 1990's, pressure from parents and organisations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics led to the removal of Thimerosal from many vaccines.
Two factors have reinforced the idea of a mercury - vaccine - autism link. Firstly, the number of autism cases has been rising steadily over the last fifteen years. Some people believe that this is a result of better diagnosis and awareness of the problems. Other people believe it is linked with the increase in the number of vaccinations child receive. There is no clear answer to whether we are suffering from an autism epidemic.
The second factor that convinces many parents that vaccinations are the cause is timing. Around eighteen months most children receive a batch of vaccinations. Shortly afterwards, parents notice developmental problems common in autism. Not surprisingly they blame the vaccination and the mercury it contains.
Does Mercury in Vaccines Cause Autism?
The key evidence to support the mercury in Thimerosal and autism is the timing. Autistic symptoms appear shortly after vaccination. However the latest research on diagnosing autism has shown that there are signs of autism in infants and todders before they are vaccinated. These are subtle symptoms and not obvious to the untrained eye until the child is approaching two years old. One symptom is the enlarged head common in autistic children and this can be spotted as early as twelve months old.
This does not mean that vaccines do not play a part in autism. There are different types of autism and in some cases, mercury might play a role. Not all the evidence for a vaccine - autism link has be dealt with. There is some evidence to suggest the Amish population, who do not vaccinate their children, have a very low or non-existent rate of autism. What is it about the low tech lifestyle that protects the amish from autism?
Mercury in the Enviroment
Vaccinations are not the only way that a child can be exposed to mercury. Because of their place in the food chain, tuna fish absorbed mercury. Though there are strict limits on the amount of mercury, recent research show dangerous levels of mercury in tinned tuna. A major mercury polluter are coal burning power stations. The coal contains trace amounts of elements and when it is burnt the mercury is released into the atmosphere. Some research has indicated that there is a link between power station pollution and autism.
Studies done on the levels of mercury in children show that mercury levels are below danger levels. However other studies have found that some child cannot clear these traces levels of mercury from their bodies very efficiently so it accumulates to potentially dangerous levels. This has raised the idea of a blood test to predict autism.
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