The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic
By Dan Olmstead and Mark Blaxill
St. Martins Press, 2010
The Age of Autism is perhaps the most important new book written about the roots of a catastrophic health pandemic affecting our children. While science has sought to find the “germ” or the “genetic link” to illnesses, Olmstead and Blaxill consider this approach antiquated and inaccurate when considering autism and possibly many more illnesses. They detail the beginnings of autism as a consequence of environmental toxins. “Perhaps because of the less determinate nature of environmental toxins, when comparing germs and toxins, there is more than just a difference in the accepted standard of causation. Whenever germs are discovered to be an essential part of the disease process, we typically attribute causation solely to the germ. We generally accept that the measles virus ‘causes’ SSPE and the poliovirus ‘causes’ paralysis even though we don’t know why the condition turns pathogenic in some cases and not others. By contrast, in the case of conditions where environmental exposure is identified as a cause of a disease, instead of linking the exposure with the disease, the most frequent response is to remove the disease label from the case.”
The condition of autism is screaming to be understood, and we have no time to waste in finding real solutions.
The principles of a nutrient-dense diet and improving gut health are becoming powerful partners in helping families find an effective treatment approach for autism. As I read this book I reflected on a recent conversation with a mother of a child with autism. She told me that she and her husband had spent one hundred fifty thousand dollars on therapies for their son, but it wasn’t until they focused on a diet of nutrient-dense foods that he began to recover. With gut health improved, her child could detoxify the poisons that were affecting his brain function.
Although Weston A. Price’s work demonstrated immunity from disease through a nutrient-dense diet, he studied cultures that were isolated from the onslaught of environmental toxins that humanity is exposed to today. In order to accurately understand the cure and prevention, we need to look at all the factors that play a role in this disorder.
Demonstrating the axiom, “the cure is often worse than the disease,” Olmstead and Blaxill carefully outline the extensive and alarming history of mercury in medicine. The Egyptians, Romans, Arabs and Chinese used it for a wide range of conditions. “Mercury is the Great Pretender, mimicking many diseases and their symptoms: the tremors of Parkinson’s, the hallucinations of schizophrenia, the paralysis and contractures of stroke, the gastrointestinal pain of ulcers and cancer.” Nonetheless, the same dose of mercury does not affect everyone equally. That mercury in medicine did something was often proof of its efficacy, and despite problems, “successive generations of doctors saw themselves as ‘improving’ on their predecessors’ crude use of mercury, refining the dose, the compound, and the usage in ways that made mercury, in their hands at least, more helpful than harmful.”
In France during the 1880s, Jean-Martin Charcot, regarded as the father of neurology, studied a group of patients suffering from paralysis and insanity but who did not have syphilis. This disease was coined “hysteria,” which became a catchall for conditions that no one could ascertain. Hysteria could also encompass mood disorders, hallucinations and even eccentric behavior. In these studies, evidence of occupational mercury exposure was often missed.
In the 1890s, mentored by Charcot, the psychotherapist, Sigmund Freud began to see offspring, close companions and caretakers of GPI patients, who also suffered from hysteria. In a quote from Sigmund Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, he surmises that, “In more than half of the cases of hysteria, obsessional neurosis, etc., which I have treated psychotherapeutically, I have been able to prove with certainty that the patient’s father suffered from syphilis before marriage. . . I am. . . of the opinion that the coincidence I have observed is neither accidental nor unimportant.”
As a body of symptoms was either overlooked or misdiagnosed, and psychiatric theories blatantly took their place, Olmstead and Blaxill characterize the irony of the blindness to mercury poisoning as a component of these mysterious illnesses, and a missed opportunity for correct diagnosis.
Another prevailing, sometimes fatal, disease that affected children through the late 1940s was called acrodynia (or pink disease), meaning “pain in the hands and feet.” It was finally determined to originate from the many mercury-containing teething powders, worm treatments, bowel regulating therapies and diaper rinses—the popular remedy calomel being among them. Notably, many of the manifestations of acrodynia are found in autism. From his 1931 book, L’Acrodynie Infantile, French physician Charles Rocaz reported this strange disorder affecting an increasing number of children, and describes a common scenario in one of his patients: “The child quit talking, tried to hit his parents, and battered himself against the bed. The parents sadly remarked that he resembled a ‘raving lunatic.’” When these disease-causing remedies were no longer prescribed, lo and behold, acrodynia disappeared.
The regrettable legacy that survivors of pink disease carry is heard in the words of Heather Theile of Australia, who founded the Pink Disease Support Group in 1989: “In particular, I have a terrible sense of position of both my body and hands. For example, it takes me ages to line up a clothesline, the clothes and the pegs to hang out the clothes. I have to have a rope hanging down from the ceiling of my carport to be able to have a guide to park the car in the right place. I am hopeless with any locks, catches, car seat catches, etc. I drift when walking and often bump into walls and doors. I go to open a door, but miss the catch by inches. I cannot cope with verbal instructions at all and have to write ‘everything’ down. This is known as ‘thinking in pictures’ (Temple Grandin).”
Olmstead and Blaxill describe England’s ensuing mercury pollution from the burning of coal beginning with the Industrial Revolution. With black clouds billowing from smoke stacks throughout the British capital, there arose a growing population of sufferers from mental illness. The Invisible Plague on Insane Persons in Psychiatric Hospitals, Workhouses, and under Care, by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. and Judy Miller, reports that in 1807 the total population of hospitalized mentally ill was 5,500; by 1870 this number had jumped to 54,713! By contrast in the 1700s there were few cases of mental illness described. The asylum population in England rose steadily as coal production and combustion increased.
A myriad of unusual illnesses affecting the brain and nervous system appeared beside mental illness including Little’s disease or cerebral palsy (1861), multiple sclerosis (1868), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease (1874), schizophrenia (1887), and bipolar disorder (1902). Today, although we no longer “see” the pollution from burning coal, it is nevertheless present with steady emissions of mercury, and the rates of these kinds of diseases progress. “Smokestacks grew higher and pollutants like mercury were simply lofted into the upper atmosphere to come to earth with the rain. . . every day, the global cycle of mercury pollution simply gets worse.”
Olmstead and Blaxill continue their mercury toxicity cross-examination in autism through the first eleven documented cases of autism. The parents of each child were found to be uniquely associated with the chronic exposure to mercury in some form. There was a fungicide cluster and a medical cluster.
Originally profiled by Leo Kanner, considered the father of child psychiatry, these children were part of a study that introduced autism to the world. Without the thought of a mercury connection, Kanner describes his findings: “Since 1938, there have come to our attention a number of children whose condition differs so markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far, that each case merits—and, I hope, will eventually receive—a detailed consideration of its fascinating peculiarities” (Leo Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact” April, 1943). In lieu of a hypothesis of association to environmental poisons, Kanner writes in the vein of popular Freudian theories that “The parents’ behavior toward the children must be fully appreciated. Maternal lack of genuine warmth is often conspicuous in the first visit to the clinic.” With this posture of blaming the parents’ attitudes toward their children as a genesis of their illness, the term “refrigerator mother” was propagated, while autism statistics kept rising, especially in large metropolitan areas.
It wasn’t until the 1960s, with the work of Bernard Rimland, a psychologist, researcher and autism parent, and Dr. Mary Coleman, a researcher at Georgetown University, that groundwork was made in understanding the environmental aspects to autism. Rimland writes that Kanner, “has been reported to have seen well over 20,000 children in his psychiatric career. It is remarkable, in retrospect, that none of the [autistic] children were seen in Kanner’s first 12 years of practice, and all were born after 1930.”
The first sign of mercury in vaccinations contributing to autism was encountered with pregnant women who had received the commercial, thimerosal-containing, gamma globulin preparations to prevent congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) in the 1960s. (Thimerosal is the mercury-containing preservative that has been used in vaccines.) Previously deafness, muteness, spontaneous abortion, infant mortality, heart defects, and very rarely, mental retardation were identified as the consequences of rubella in the mother.
At the start of 1964 there was a rubella epidemic, and under the guise of this remedy, came a drastic surge in children who were born with behavioral disorders, with an alarming percentage who were on the autism spectrum. The authors ask, “Was autism as an outcome of congenital rubella another example of a ‘disease of the remedy’?” While the U.S. no longer uses gamma globulin therapies since the rubella vaccine has taken its place, in developing countries where CRS still occurs and gamma globulin has never been used, deafness, blindness, heart disease and occasionally mental retardation are seen—but autism is never mentioned.
The “straw that broke the camel’s back” occurred as autism rates intensified in the 1990s. There was a notable acceleration of cases of children reported to have developed autism immediately after receiving the MMR vaccine. Concern developed over the unusually high rate of autism in Somali refugees. While rates in Africa are very low, the rate for the immigrant population in Minnesota was one in twenty-eight children! These children were required to receive three times the number of vaccines before entering this country. Yet in the Amish community, where vaccine rates are low, the rate is one in one hundred fifty thousand children.
The Age of Autism scours vaccine research that began in the 1990s. Independent results reveal that the increased childhood vaccine schedule along with vaccinations that were grouped together and which require mercury compounds as a preservative, like the MMR vaccine, exceed the limits of mercury exposure and are a probable factor in the escalation in autism. Although mercury has been phased out in children’s vaccines, influenza vaccines targeted at pregnant women were not included in the withdrawal and can still be a contributing component in the unborn child.
The autism pandemic cannot be exclusively blamed on increases in vaccinations, as our nutrient-depleted food supply and other environmental toxins certainly play a role. The work of the Weston A. Price Foundation is an exceptional partner in teaching people about nutrient-dense diets that heal and build health. Parallel with mounting research is the intensified skepticism about vaccine safety. Many concerned citizens are choosing either to vaccinate selectively or to decline them altogether. Therefore, protecting our personal rights has become a paramount issue fueled by abundant “evidence of harm,” which has not yet been reason enough for a transformation of our national medical dictates. As we seek correction of irresponsible policies, we will continue to depend on measures of individual heroism, for inaction may lead to more destruction.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2011.🖨️ Print post