Heavy Metals & Autism
Almost all people with autism have some form of heavy metal toxicity. It is definitely more likely than not to find elevated heavy metals in autistic individuals. These toxic heavy metals include lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic, which are “heavy metals”. There are also other toxic metals that are not “heavy metals,” like aluminum which can play a large role in the symptoms of autism.
How Do You Know If You Have Toxic Metals
The absolute best way to assess metal toxicity is….cremation. But since that isn’t an option, hair analysis, blood analysis, urine analysis and manual muscle testing are other options. Second to cremation, I find specific manual muscle testing to be the best indicator of one’s toxic metal status. Hair analysis can be performed also, but I don’t see it correlate as well to clinical symptoms and can often be deceiving. If you are treating yourself, you can order a urine or hair analysis on your own, but I recommend finding a physician that is certified in Professional Applied Kinesiology to help you manage your specific case.
Why Are Toxic Metals Higher in Autism
The exact reasons why metal toxicity is so common in autism are still under some investigation, but clinically we can see changes with addressing some root level causes. People without autism can also have metal toxicity but it seems that those with autism are more sensitive or susceptible to their detrimental effects. Some of the root causes of metal toxicity include infections and biofilms, mineral deficiencies, exposure to excess toxic metals, decreased ability to detoxify heavy metals and leaky gut.
Infections and Biofilms
I have written previously on this connection in an article on biofilms. The basic idea is that these biofilms in the body have a strong affinity for heavy metals and thus they accumulate in the body. The biofilms can bind to metals and hold on to them for an indefinite period of time. At any point in time the biofilm can release the toxic metals or keep accumulating them for later. Biofilms are somewhat difficult to treat and especially resistant to antibiotics, so just because you have done a course or two or three doesn’t mean you don’t have a biofilm community still dwelling inside.
All autism cases present with nutritional deficiencies, almost without exception. Some physicians blame soil depletion, eating refined foods (wheat, sugar and corn), or medical drugs causing damage to intestinal lining and subsequent absorption, but regardless of its specific cause in each individual, it is extremely common. Certain nutritional deficiencies such as calcium and magnesium for example, act as antagonists to other metals, keeping the toxic metals from elevating too much. Calcium and Magnesium are antagonists to aluminum, but when depleted, aluminum levels can increase significantly causing symptoms of autism.
Zinc deficiency is also very common in autism. Zinc is required for over 100 reactions in the body including reactions involved in the immune system, wound healing, DNA production and cell division. When zinc is at its optimal levels it supports normal growth and development in pregnancy, childhood and adolescence as well as proper taste and smell.
Exposure and Detoxification
For almost every condition in the body there is either too much coming in or not enough going out. This is true for hormones, weight loss, detoxification and many other processes as well. Common sources of toxic metal exposure include air (especially near production plants), foods such as fish, deodorant, medications and vaccinations. In an optimally functioning body, many people can eliminate these toxic metals, but in autism, detoxification and elimination is often suboptimal. Suboptimal detoxification can be because of poor liver or kidney function or it can be due to more involved processes at the cellular level such as methylation and metalothionein.
3 Common Toxic Metals
It is difficult to simply guess or diagnose a specific metal toxicity from symptoms alone, but some of the most common toxic metals do show somewhat of a consistent pattern if we look at the most severe cases. And of course to make it more difficult, any and all symptoms can overlap in autism!
Mercury and Cadmium – These metals are often the most detrimental, causing lack of speech, abnormal behavior and withdrawal from family and people in general. With severely elevated levels, it is much more difficult to get full symptom resolution. Those with more severe cognitive disorders often have elevated mercury or cadmium.
Aluminum – Aluminum is my most common finding in autistic children in the office. It can definitely cause severe autistic symptoms, but they may not be as permanent as those with cadmium and mercury.
Copper – It seems that clinically copper toxicity is more common in Arizona patients than other parts of the country. Those with elevated copper levels often respond best to the gluten-free and casein-free diet, so determining an elevated copper status can also guide you in diet and nutrition.
A Note on Chelation Therapies
I personally recommend that those dealing with autism avoid chelation therapy as it is too harsh for most patients even at low doses. I wouldn’t say that it is never beneficial or never has a place, but it is definitely my last semi-natural option.
Without going into too much detail, chelating agents are not specific and not holistic. Chelation is too general in the same way that a multivitamin is too general. When someone is suffering from a nutrient deficiency it is very specific, the individual needs a higher dose of one nutrient, not a little bit of everything. Likewise in chelation, there is usually one or two elevated metals and chelation lowers all metals whether toxic or essential. It is not holistic because reduces the overall vitality of the body by nutritional depletion. All chelating agents provide some benefit but are at least mildly toxic to other parts of the body. Often times the kidneys suffer, but any organ or tissue can be affected as toxic metals are pulled from the body.
Treating Toxic Metals
Treating toxic metals comes down to looking at root causes. Just a few of the ones mentioned above are infections, biofilms, exposure, detoxification/elimination and nutritional deficiencies. Each of these are very specific and need to be dealt with individually. I encourage people not to just go and buy a 50 supplements and put their child on them. If you are already dosing 50 supplements, come of off them and find someone to help you know which ones are specifically needed to help save you time and money in the long run.