Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Font Size

Mercury Levels Same in Autistic, Other Children

Fish Consumption Predicted Levels Best, Researchers Found
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 19, 2009 -- Blood levels of mercury are similar in children with autism, those with other developmental problems, and those who are developing typically, according to a new study.

''There has been discussion about whether children with autism have high levels [of mercury],'' says the study's lead author, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, an epidemiologist, professor, and chief of environmental and occupational health at the University of California, Davis, and a researcher at the MIND Institute there.

Hertz-Picciotto cautioned that her recent study does not examine whether mercury plays a role in causing the disorder, which has been the focus of ongoing debate. Major studies of children who were given vaccines with the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal (now phased out of most vaccines given to children) don't find a link between the vaccines and autism, but some organizations led by parents of autistic children doubt those conclusions.

The blood levels in the study were taken after a child had already received a diagnosis of autism, a developmental disorder now believed to affect one in 91 U.S. children and marked by difficulty in communication, social interaction, and learning.

Some took exception with the new study.

''Measuring blood levels of mercury is a useless way to assess chronic damage or pathology from mercury, as it clears the bloodstream relatively rapidly," says Jim Moody, a director for the Coalition for SafeMinds (Sensible Action for Ending Mercury-Induced Neurological Disorders), an organization that investigates the risks of mercury exposure.

Mercury Levels and Autism: Study Details

Triggering the research, Hertz-Picciotto says, is that some researchers have thought children with autism may have higher levels of mercury in their blood because their bodies don't get rid of it it as efficiently as other children and that buildup might be contributing to the problems.

But others have speculated that children with autism may have lower blood levels of mercury because the mercury is sequestered in their brain, she says.

For the study, Hertz-Picciotto and her colleagues compared the blood levels of mercury in 249 children with autism or autism spectrum disorder, in 143 typically developing children and in 60 children with developmental delays other than autism spectrum disorder. Children were enrolled into the study from 2003 to 2006.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

girl at window
Symptoms within the first 2 years of a child’s life.
boy playing a violin
How is this condition similar to autism?
Mother and daughter indoors playing
Play therapy may undo the disorder in at-risk babies.
preschool age girl sitting at desk
What causes this rare form of autism?
High Functioning Autism And Asperge Syndrome
Gluten Free Diet Slideshow
Mother and daughter indoors playing
man on bicycle
girl at window
Mother hugging teenage son
Understanding Rett Syndrome
Home Care Tips

WebMD Special Sections