Autism in America: A “Mercurial” Public Health Problem?

The autism rate for U.S. children is significantly higher than the autism rate for Amish children. According to the federal government, 1 in 166 children have autism, while the rate for the Amish around Middlefield, Ohio is only 1 in 15,000, according to Dr. Heng Wang, board certified pediatrician and medical director at the Das Deutsch Center (DDC) Clinic for Special Needs Children in Middlefield. Quite literally, in a community of 15,000, only one boy has been identified with the disorder. While this sample is not necessarily representative of all Amish communities, United Press International has identified similar patterns among other sizable Amish settlements in Pennsylvania Dutch country, Kentucky and Indiana.

Why and how are the autism rates so much lower among the Amish?
The DDC Clinic, created in 2002, aims to find answers to the complex genetic disorders to which the Amish are prone due to an isolated gene pool. Because of recent increases in autism incidence among children in the U.S., the clinic now also has the potential to serve as a means of understanding autism.

What causes autism?
Is it food, vaccines, or a genetic fluke? While most mainstream medical experts and federal health authorities say there is no link between vaccines and autism, the director of the CDC told Congress she still considered it a possibility.  The Amish receive a religious exemption from immunizations; however, more and more Amish families now opt to vaccinate their kids. Though the Amish boy in Middlefield received routine childhood immunizations unlike other children, his autism is still considered of “unknown etiology,” meaning the cause is undetermined.  Dr. Wang hesitates to concede any correlation between vaccines and autism. According to Wang, people need “to do more research.”

What is it about vaccines that some think could cause autism?
Some parents and a few medical professionals believe thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in vaccines, triggered the spikes in autism incidence in the 1990s. Others believe the issue might be in the vaccines themselves. Because of the supposed correlation, manufacturers of the vaccines began phasing out thimerosal at the CDC’s request in 1999. A doctor in Virginia told UPI that none of the autistic Amish children he treats were vaccinated. In 4 out of the 6 cases, however, the Virginian doctor suspects mercury toxicity due to environmental pollution may have triggered the onset of the disorder. Additionally, since the Amish have such a limited gene pool, genetics could play a significant role.

Why is there mercury in vaccines?
Thimerosal is an ethylmercury preservative that kills or prevents the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. Thimerosal, which is about 50% mercury by weight, is one of the most commonly used preservatives in vaccines. Very few studies have been conducted on the toxicity levels. In fact the federally allowed exposure to ethylmercury isn’t based upon any study of ethylmercury at all, but another organomercurial, methylmercury. Methymercury is a neurotoxin that gained great notoriety in the 1950s and 1960s when industrial discharge in Minimata Bay, Japan led to the consumption of contaminated fish. Many children were born with deformed limbs and severe mental disabilities. This public health crisis spurred many scientific studies to find the maximum exposure level to the organomercurial, though many parents and some medical professionals question whether a compound so dangerous and potent should be used for public consumption at all.
Though the CDC is phasing out thimerosal, it is still present in many vaccines today. For an updated list on vaccines that do not use thimerosal, consult the FDA’s Vaccine Safety page and contact the vaccine manufacturers directly.

What can families with autistic children do?
While there is no cure for autism, there are many things that parents and family members can do to improve the quality of life of a child with autism. Finding solutions can be hard because there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all strategy- each child is unique. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we help families develop action plans that address their particular needs and circumstances.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.