Is chelation therapy an effective autism treatment?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

Chelation therapy is not an effective autism treatment, and it may be dangerous.

Some doctors and parents have considered chelation therapy as a potential autism treatment. Proponents believe that autism is caused by mercury exposure, such as from childhood vaccines. Chelation therapy supposedly removes mercury from the body, which chelation supporters say cures autism — but there's no evidence of a link between mercury exposure and autism. In addition, chelation therapy can be associated with serious side effects, including potentially deadly kidney damage.

The subject of exposure to environmental toxic agents — such as mercury, lead and a host of other toxins — and links to autism spectrum disorder is complex and the quality of studies varies considerably. That's in part because of all the many variables, such as geography, genetic factors, metabolism differences in individuals and sampling sources. Studies show conflicting results with no reproducible proof.

There's no cure for autism — now called autism spectrum disorder in the newest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. As a result, many unproven alternative therapies are often suggested. However, these alternative therapies are usually found to be ineffective and sometimes harmful.

Consult your primary doctor if you're considering an alternative treatment for autism spectrum disorder. Your doctor may help you identify treatment options and local resources that provide support or refer you to a health professional who can do so.

Nov. 23, 2016