Boy Dies After Controversial Treatment for Autism
Experts: Chelation Therapy Not Worth the Risk
Aug. 26, 2005 - A 5-year-old boy with autism died last Tuesday after
getting a controversial treatment.
According to news reports, the boy, Abubakar Nadama, went into cardiac
arrest while undergoing chelation therapy -- his third such treatment -- at
Advanced Integrative Medicine Center in Portersville, Pa. It is
not yet known whether the treatment was the direct cause of the child's
Chelation (pronounced key-LAY-shun) is used to remove heavy metals from the
blood. It's approved for acute lead poisoning. The risk is that, in addition to
toxic metals, it removes vital minerals from the body.
No form of chelation therapy is approved by the FDA for treating
autism. The treatment given to the boy was intravenous EDTA -- ethylene
diamine tetra-acetic acid.
That angers autism expert Leslie Rubin, MD, a pediatrician affiliated with
Emory and Morehouse universities and president of the Institute for the Study
of Disadvantage and Disability.
"I say this emphatically: Chelation is a very risky procedure with no
proven benefits for children with autism or related conditions," Rubin
What do we know about autism's causes and how to treat it? WebMD reports.
Unproven Cause, Unproven Treatment
Despite strong evidence to the contrary, many parents believe their
children's autism is caused by mercury from thimerosal, a vaccine preservative.
A recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report explicitly rejects this theory.
That report also finds no evidence that chelation helps autism.
Nevertheless, many parents treat their children's autism with chelation
therapies. Most of them consider intravenous EDTA an extreme treatment, says
Sallie Bernard, executive director of Safe Minds, a group that strongly
disagrees with the IOM's conclusions.
"The boy who died was using a form of chelation therapy that is not
generally recommended or widely practiced within the autism community trying
chelation," Bernard tells WebMD. "It is an unusual circumstance. EDTA
is not what most of these parents are doing. It is not what is considered the
right form of chelation."
Bernard -- under the supervision of a medical doctor -- has treated her own
son's autism with oral chelation agents.
That isn't what pediatrician Susan Hyman, MD, would recommend. Hyman, an
autism researcher at the University of Rochester, N.Y., has studied
complementary and alternative treatments for autism.
"When you have no cause and no cure, you have a lot of frustration,"
Hyman tells WebMD. "As a doctor you can prescribe chelation for autism, but
the efficacy just hasn't been demonstrated."
So why do so many parents say it works? Hyman says that most parents who try
chelation don't give up on other, more effective treatments for their children.
But when the kids improve, they think it is chelation that did the trick.
"Many advocates of unproven treatments, such as parents of young
children with autism, have such hope and desire that an unproven treatment is
going to work that they do discern an improvement," Hyman says.