• Wed, Jan 30 2008

Ethyl Mercury Is Expelled Faster From Babies’ Bodies Than Thought, and Other Autism Truths and Autism Fictions

Autism is very real for me as it is, I think I can assume, for most of you reading this, whether you are autistic or you’re the parent, teacher, friend, grandparent, sister, brother, aunt, doctor, or otherwise know someone who has autism. Indeed, being my son’s parent has required me to think about some very real things as honestly as I can, from acknowledging that it’s best for his school programs to become more and more directed to vocational training and daily life skills—from saying that he “aggressed” a teacher—- to planning for the future by preparing a special needs trust. When you get down to it, that’s the basics of life with Charlie, a careful focus on getting through the days—with lots of stops to sit with him and enjoy the moment—-and an eye constantly on the future, on the part of Charlie’s life that I will not be here for. I’ve therefore found it rather odd that a TV show, the set-to-air-tomorrow comedic legal drama Eli Stone—-has been getting so much attention, with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calling for its cancellation due to the storyline of the pilot, in which lawyer Stone successfully wins a $5.2 verdict for a mother who believes that her son became autistic due to “mercuritol” in a flu vaccine.

It is, according to the AAP itself, precisely because of the “Eli Stone controversy” that the AAP is lifting the embargo early on a new study in Pediatrics showing that the ethyl mercury previously used in vaccines as a preservative, is excreted much faster than other forms of mercury in the environment. The researchers are from the University of Rochester:

“Thimerosal has been used for decades, but the surge in vaccinations caused fear that possible accumulations of ethyl mercury, the kind in thimerosal, might exceed safe levels – at least, when based on the stringent risk guidelines applied to its better-understood chemical cousin, methyl mercury, which is associated with eating fish,” said Michael Pichichero, M.D., professor of Microbiology/Immunology, Pediatrics and Medicine at the University of Rochester and the study’s main author.

But scientists are learning that the two mercury species actually behave quite differently……….
In the Rochester study, 216 infants from R. Gutierrez Children’s Hospital (in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where thimerosal is still routinely used in vaccines) were divided into three age groups to have their blood-mercury levels tested both before and after shots were administered at either their newborn, 2- or 6-month checkup. Researchers learned that, in all three age groups, the half-life of ethyl mercury in the blood – or, the time it takes for the body to dispose of half the mercury, and then another half, and so on – was measured to be 3.7 days. That’s a far cry from the blood half-life of methyl mercury, which is 44 days.

“Until recently, that longer half-life was assumed to be the rule for both types of mercury. Now it’s obvious that ethyl mercury’s short half-life prevents toxic build-up from occurring. It’s just gone too fast,” Pichichero said.

To illustrate, researchers cite that infants in the 6-month-old group – who, in their lifetimes, had encountered more total ethyl mercury that any other group studied – still had the same pre-vaccination blood-mercury levels before their checkups as most 2-month-olds had before theirs. This suggests that, before each round of shots, the mercury has plenty of time to be cleared.

Infants’ bodies are able to expel thimerasol mercury much faster than thought and thus there is “…..little chance for a progressive building up of the toxic metal.” Following the study from the California Department of Health that was released earlier this month about how autism rates increased even after thimerasol was removed from vaccines, the University of Rochester study continues to provide evidence against a vaccine-autism link.

Will those who believe that vaccines or something in vaccines caused their child to become autistic see this newest study as proof that the vaccine-autism hypothesis is a hypothesis and even a myth?

Probably—if not definitely not. When it comes to theories about what causes autism, one thing you can count on is that many will continue to put more faith in fictions and hypotheses than in facts and scientific evidence, and that’s a truth that may be stranger than what any TV lawyer argues for in court.

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  • Patrick

    This is indeed a very good study, thanks to Dr. Pichichero (and his team) for doing this! Now if some others will repeat the study for confirmation I would be even more happy.

  • tracey

    I completely understand how parents can become so passionate when they discover that their child has autism, but passion should not blind to good science. I have two sons with autism. One had signs early on and one did not show signs until around 1 years of age and regressed a bit…but there was no connection to anything. If you look at a lot of the research that has nothing to do with the vaccine contraversery, such as following eye gaze in babies, genetic research, etc…you suddenly realize that even at the most subtle, symptoms are there. I would love to be able to blame somone, I would love to be able to have some simple remedy that I can give them to “fix” my sons, but that would keep me from doing all the other things right and keep me from loving the boys they are, with or without “autism”

  • http://www.thismom.com kyra

    i guess what i keep coming back to is this: mercury and its cousins are known neurotoxins. they may not cause autism, okay, some are convinced they don’t (i personally believe it’s not possible to say how environmental toxins affect biochemistry and genetics of every individual) but let’s just all agree that it’s not a great idea to dump neurotoxins into tiny 7 pound beings.

    but i agree with your message in other posts about this issue, kristina. let’s redirect focus, energies, and funds toward other more helpful ways to support those with autism and those who are caring for them.

  • Heidi Roger

    It is so sad to me that so many people automatically believe what they read and don’t question for one moment the validity of the conclusion. Passion doesn’t blind us to good science, passion makes us review the science to see if it IS good science. So maybe ethyl gets out of the blood more quickly than methyl, BUT WHERE DOES IT GO? This study did not measure the ingoing versus the outgoing. They took some samples from urine and stool to see which method of excretion is utilized by the ethyl Hg but, just like David Copperfield, they distracted you from the real issue: THE MERCURY GETS DEPOSITED IN THE BODY/BRAIN AND CAUSES DAMAGE. This is not a blind fanaticism, there has been no science that disproves the theory. The fact that the incidence rate has not dropped significantly may mean that the mercury is not really out of the vaccines, no one at the FDA is testing the vaccines at the Pharma companies. Is it so hard for you to believe that a medical product may be harming infants? There are hundreds of thousands of deaths each year from FDA approved pharmaceuticals. Vioxx was approved as well. For the love of Prada, the federal omnibus court just settled with one of the test cases (after disqualifying it as a test case) CONCEDING that the thimerosal in the shots exacerbated an existing autism. THAT is one hairs breadth away from admitting that thimerosal causes autism. The Verstraten study proved that Thimerosal caused autism until they manipulated the numbers. Figures don’t lie but liars can figure. Trying to eliminate a very likely cause of injury to children does not mean that I don’t love my son more than life itself. I do it for him, for my friend’s son’s and daughters, for all the sons and daughters, sheesh, even for your son Kristina.

  • toxic

    I agree with Heidi. This study shows exactly the opposite of what the press is saying. It does not clear thimerosal. This study shows ethyl mercury is even more toxic then methyl. We know from Burbacher that there was more mercury in the brain from ethyl than methyl. Now we know from Pichichero that the half-life of ethyl is even shorter then methyl. That means the mercury heads off to the fatty tissues (brain) even faster with ethyl mercury.

    Also, to the comment above about redirecting energies, there are so many parents affected by autism in their families that I feel there are plenty of us to go around. It does not hurt to have some focus on eduction, some on biomedical, etc. There are so many issues to solve, why put all your eggs in one basket? Kristina, push for better eduction. Heidi, push for safer vaccines. It\’s all good.

  • http://www.leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk Kev

    “THE MERCURY GETS DEPOSITED IN THE BODY/BRAIN AND CAUSES DAMAGE. This is not a blind fanaticism, there has been no science that disproves the theory.”

    Not quite. I’ve written an entry about this.

    The one study (Burbacher) that says mercury gets stored in the brain is subject to numerous flaws (see the video at the end of my blog entry).

    Burbacher also did not report any neuroinflammation so its hard to know what you are talking about when you say that its the real issue when it’s never actually been discussed.

    You are also incorrect that that Omnibus hearings conceded that thiomersal in vaccines ‘exacerbated an existing autism’. What was said was (child’s family name has been blacked out):

    “Within the past week we learned that respondent is conceding in one of the potential
    cases that vaccines caused the “significant aggravation” of an underlying condition.
    That concession places the case in procedural posture that makes it inappropriate as a test case for hearing in May 2008.”

    There is no implication or statement of any kind that the ‘underlying condition’ is autism. Nor is the word ‘thimerosal’ mentioned. The letter is saying that its impossible to separate an admitted bad vaccine reaction (which everybody knows happen from time to time) to the child’s autism and hence a better test case would be appropriate.

    Thirdly you are also incorrect regarding Verstraten. His first study was a pilot study utiising a small number of subjects. When he got his results he quite rightly expanded the second part of his study to a statistically significant number of subjects. When he did, the association went away.

  • Karla

    There are other confounding variables that I think we tend to forget: What about all of the toxins that mothers are exposed to before and during their pregnancy? I think that this is where the answer to Autism will ultimately lie. The difficulty is, how do you sort it all out? From the MTBE’s in our gasoline, to the chemicals in our lotions/makeup/cleaners, to the pesticides in our food, to the chemicals in our carpets and couches…what does the build-up of all of THOSE chemicals do? What does the methyl mercury build-up in women look like before our babies even get here?

  • tracey

    I don’t think that anyone is saying that one parent loves or is more or less dedciated to their children with autism by speaking out in the debate. If this was inferred, I apolgize.

    My comment was only that….and I myself am very guilty of this….parents in hope for answers get their sights set. I catch myself doing this all the time with my sons.

    I currently have a teacher wanting to use a certain method that I don’t think is compatible with my son. I had to take a step back, and think about my emotions that can’t help but be attached. I spoke to a few other therpists, did some research and I am right…of course..LOL>

    But I then realized that the debate was over what every debate about autism seems to center around. Not all autism is created equal. Going from point A to B to a conclusion does not answer all that is related to autism (causes, symptoms, therpies, prognois, outcomes) My teacher’s rebuttal was that, “I have always done this with every child with autism in my classroom”. My answer, “Dalton is a child first, everyone is different, including children with autism” The big picture…not a narrow focus.

    I even think that research should continue re: enviormental factors and links to autism. I believe all researchers believe that there is some enviormental componet, but we can’t lose the forest for the trees. Mercury maybe only a part of a very very large picture.

    We don’t want research to become so narrow and centralized that we ignore all cases. We can probably all agree that not everyone’s story is the same. Autism is so complicated and there are no definitive answers that link point A to point B.

    I agree with Kyra…whether or not it causes it, do we really want to put some toxin in our babies when there are other methods available re: vaccines and even vaccine schedules.

    And I agree that there is room for us all to speak out, but certain voices are way louder than others. Whenever I tell someone about my boys the first question is “Do you think that it was the vaccines?”, “Do they have a special diet?” and my favorite…”So, you must just love Jenny McCarthy!” Geez…is that the only thing that the general public know about autism?

    In the grand scheme of things Toxic is right, “It’s All good.”

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Heidi, it’s great to hear from you! I still remember speaking to you many years ago when Charlie was first diagnosed.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    No question about any one loving their children more than any one else—we’re all in this together. It’s unfortunate that so much energy gets focused on talking about the hypothesis for this one particular “cause” of autism—-so much going on each day at schools, in gyms, and in our kids’ lives.

  • GrammaKnows

    Hello Kristina.

    You posed this query:
    “Will those who believe that vaccines or something in vaccines caused their child to become autistic see this newest study as proof that the vaccine-autism hypothesis is a hypothesis and even a myth?”

    And I would like to respond.

    The Pichichero study confirms a previous result, actually. In 2002 a study performed by Pichichero found low mercury in blood and mercury excretion in stool and also at that time, felt thimerosal posed no risk…but that study also had no idea which mercury was being found in the stool or if it, in fact, was ALL the mercury that had been injected. It made no determination there was any difference between absorption of thimerosal in particular, so this study was funded….and I’ve been waiting two years to hear the results and read the methodology to see exactly what was determined.

    Not surprisingly, the only thing this study offers is that the thimerosal mercury has a blood half life of under 4 days, it does not follow the same absorption and excretion pattern of the mercury found in the environment or food, and they STILL don’t know where it is all going!

    HOWEVER, another study, funded by NIAID (as this one was) in 2002 on the Pharmacokinetics and Tissue Distribution of Thimerosal, Ethyl Mercury and Methyl Mercury in Animals found mercury was cleared faster from the blood when thimerosal was present. It also found when thimerosal was injected there was less accumulation and retention of mercury in the blood. Does Pichichero’s study confrim this study?

    Not hardly. You see, in this study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, V.113, #8 August 2005, it was found the thimerosal caused higher concentration of mercury in the brain and stated the toxicokinetics and developmental effects of thimerosal was still needed. Burbacher (the author of the primate study) still maintains that determination has not been made by Pichichero’s study…and has stated as such in quotes in some of the reporting on Pichichero’s current study.

    In Burbacher’s study, the primates were sacrificed and elevated levels of mercury were found in brain and organ tissue when thimerosal was present.

    While it would be unethical to sacrifice and test tissues in human infants, one would have expected Pichichero to have come up, at least, with a methodology by which to measure total thimerosal excretion, which he did not. The only apparent surprise here is that thimerosal doesn’t behave like the methylmercury in humans – a point already confirmed by Burbacher in primates.

    The significance of this is the levels of thimerosal deemed to be “safe” using the methylmercury model must be abandoned and new safety guidelines established. Which, in fact, means that there is an undetermined potential danger posed by continuing to ues thimerosal.

    Do we now know how much mercury accumulates in human brain & tissue? No. Do we know it accumulates in other primates? Yes.

    Are the primate studies of any relevance? Since they are relevant in other drug testing for safety, the answer to that is likely a resounding , YES.

    So to respond to your query, “Will those who believe that vaccines or something in vaccines caused their child to become autistic see this newest study as proof that the vaccine-autism hypothesis is a hypothesis and even a myth?”

    No…not by a long shot. If anything it shows safety studies in humans are not being taken seriously.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Thanks for your response and not at all surprised……

  • http://www.leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk Kev

    GrammaKnows – Burbacher’s study had two large errors/assumptions.

    From Autism Wiki

    “This paper is also presented as evidence of an association between thimerosal and neuroglial activation Vargas et al but the only mention of microglial and astroglial activation is actually a reference to another study with a much higher dose of MeHg. In fact Burbacher has observed microglial activation in primates after exposure to mercury salts which presents two possibilities in this study:

    1. Neuroglial activation patterns were investigated and no changes were observed before the animals were sacrificed. This is the most common explanation which can be interpreted to mean there are no acute effects on CNS glial cells, inconsistent with reports of immediate regression following vaccination with TCV.

    2. Neuroglial activation was not in the scope of this study.

    A lot of people also drew the conclusion from Burbacher et al that ethylmercury (thimerosal) was actually less toxic than methylmercury.

    Blogger Bartholomew Cubbins, a research scientist, had some comments to make on the methodology Burbacher et al used to measure mercury:

    “The real problem with this paper is the fact that a direct measurement of each compound of interest is not accomplished. Rather, the tissue is homogenized and then an organic extraction is conducted. From the different phases come the parts of the sample that are applied to the spec.

    The spec measures the concentration of the element mercury. It is up to the user to then attribute that concentration to the phase and thus, to the form of mercury that resided in the tissue.

    So what happens to intact thimerosal during the organic extraction? Why didn’t the group inject homogenate with thimerosal, ethyl, methyl, and inorganic mercury to provide a baseline by which extraction efficiency and extraction degradation could be measured and taken into account? I see assumptions bundled with missing data.”

    In other words, when the Burbacher team performed the extraction of mercury from the blood or brain matter, they failed to introduce controls to ensure that the thimerosal was not degraded in any way as a result of the extraction process. This means they had to basically assume from the resultant possibly contaminated material how much was attributable to methylmercury and how much to thimerosal (ethylmercury).

    Bartholomew Cubbins shot a Quicktime movie to demonstrate his points.

    A few other issues with materials and methods: Burbacher used thimerosal free vaccines and added pure thimerosal. It is difficult to know how this fresh preparation compares with vaccine formulas when thimerosal is part of the manufacturing process and may have suffered some degradation to inorganic Hg in the vials before administration.

    You are building an assumptive conclusion on the back of an assumptive single paper.

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  • Mark

    The study is nothing new, and it has already been proven that more ethyl mercury penetrates into the brain and stays there. That’s why it’s not in the blood. Cyanide would probably be a good preservative too, but we don’t inject it into babies.

  • Jennifer Nordin

    Well, we can all continue to argue about the different theories regarding the damaging effects of mercury. So, even if the thimerosal is removed from vaccines to make them “safer”, what about the neurotoxins monosodium glutamate, formaldahyde, and 3 forms of aluminum that the CDC lists as ingredients of many vaccines including DTap? I try to imagine sometimes what kind of headaches many infants must endure after their vaccinations. Inconsolable screaming is one of the side effects that can occur after vaccination. Those little ones have no words to describe the horrible migraines they may be experiencing from all those toxic substances. And you think your headache is bad from eating foods that contain MSG! People, we have no idea what these children are suffering.

    Mark, they don’t inject babies with cyanide because death would come too quickly. Sickly, brain damaged children create alot more income.

    Here is the list of vaccine ingredients, don’t just take my word for it.

    http://www.909shot.com/Vaccine%20Excipients%20CDC.pdf

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    So the main thing we need to do is focus on helping kids where they are and emphasizing education, teaching, and such services.

  • Jennifer Nordin

    Helping kids where they are is certainly important, but I believe as much effort should be spent on digging out the truth about what is contributing to the epidemic of autism and neurological disorders in children. The murky nature of enviromental ,vaccine, and pharmaceutical damage leaves affected individuals and families without “smoking gun” proof in most cases who are left to suffer without justice. That is the great American tragedy of our times. I am weary of the “studies” that constantly cancel each other out and the apathetic response to death and damage…”but we really don’t know what is causing this”.
    Yes, let’s focus on education so we can start learning about what damages our bodies–and let’s take the responsibility for our wellness while we still have the freedom and rely less on the “experts” to keep us healthy.

  • Heidi Roger

    Kristina, Why do you not believe in trying to treat Autism biomedically? Just curious why someone only wants to focus on education and services. thnx.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    @Heidi,
    Very good to hear from you.

    All of our children need education and services and much work remains to be done to ensure appropriate and high quality support, services, housing, and much more throughout their lives.

    I’ve noted our experience with some biomedical “treatments” here:

    http://www.autismvox.com/on-the-biomedical-understanding-of-autism/

    Hope you and yours have been well.