The Age of
Autism: Gold standards
Dan Olmsted, United Press International, December 30,
For more articles like this
scientific paper suggests gold salts -- the treatment that may
have prompted improvement in the first child ever diagnosed with
autism -- can affect mental conditions.
"Although there is very little modern research on these
applications for gold, historically one notable use of gold was
as a 'nervine,' a substance that could revitalize people
suffering from nervous conditions, a term we would today call
neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as epilepsy and
depression," according to the paper, "Gold and its relationship
to neurological/glandular conditions."
The paper appeared in 2002 in the International Journal of
Neuroscience, co-authored by four researchers at the Meridian
Institute, a Virginia-based non-profit group. It is online at
"Neither the causes of the disorders nor the mechanism of gold
is known, yet there are reports pointing to a possible
involvement of naturally-occurring gold in the nervous and
glandular systems, and evidence from historical sources of a
possible efficacy of gold in therapy for neurological
disorders," write authors Douglas G. Richards, David L. McMillin,
Eric A. Mein and Carl D. Nelson.
The paper, which we've alluded to before, is getting renewed
attention among activists who believe that most cases of autism
are caused by a mercury preservative used in childhood
immunizations. While medical groups and federal health
authorities discount any link, these researchers and parents say
a huge rise in autism diagnoses beginning in the 1990s can be
tied to the increasing number of vaccines containing the
preservative, called thimerosal, which is about 50 percent ethyl
mercury by weight.
The earliest year for which we could find evidence of thimerosal
being used in vaccines was 1931. In August, Age of Autism
reported that the first child ever diagnosed with autism --
Donald T., who was born in 1933 in Mississippi -- was treated
with gold salts for an acute attack of juvenile rheumatoid
arthritis at age 12. His autism symptoms also showed significant
improvement following the two-to-three-month gold-salts
treatment at a clinic in Memphis, according to his brother, who
we interviewed in the small Mississippi town where both still
That caught the attention of Boyd Haley, a chemistry professor
at the University of Kentucky and a leading proponent of the
mercury-autism theory. In our last column we reported the
results of a test he conducted to see whether gold salts would
pull mercury off a chemical compound.
It did. Gold salts "can reverse the binding" of mercury to
molecules, Haley said, adding, "This does lend support to the
possible removal of mercury from biological proteins in
individuals treated with gold salts."
The article by the Meridian Institute authors does not discuss
whether gold might improve neurological conditions triggered by
a toxic exposure such as mercury, and it does not mention
autism. But it does provide a context for understanding why the
compound might improve mental functioning and alleviate
Intriguingly, the authors write that 19th-century scientists
realized gold could help them explore the nervous system.
"The affinity of gold for the nervous system and the
implications of this for the treatment of nervous disorders was
remarked by (Dr. Leslie E.) Keeley (1897): 'The use of gold ...
to develop microscopical nerves may, perhaps, be said to
indicate that nerve fiber has a peculiar affinity for that
metal. The application of it in solutions brings out nerves
which otherwise would be invisible.
"'The development of lifeless microscopic nerves by a solution
of gold may be in part owing to some of the recondite forces
which cause the gold, taken into circulation, to reconstruct
Haley's hypothesis 108 years later sounds oddly similar: Gold,
he thinks, might pull mercury "off the enzyme it's inhibiting
and reactivate that enzyme."
If the idea that an element found in nature could affect mental
functioning sounds bizarre, remember that it has already
happened. The authors note that another element on the periodic
table -- lithium -- has been used to treat bipolar disorder.
All this leaves proponents of the mercury-autism theory eager to
see whether gold salts might be beneficial to any of the 250,000
Americans with autism, many of whom have not responded well to
treatment. But they are equally concerned that a "gold rush," so
to speak, could raise false hopes or -- far worse -- endanger
"Don't jump on this. Be careful. You can hurt kids," Haley told
us before he began his test of gold salts. Even after it
reversed the binding of mercury to molecules, Haley cautioned:
"The last thing the autism associations need is a bad experience
on treating an autistic child. Extreme caution should be used
with gold salts; just because the gold or thiolmalate (part of
the gold salts) binds mercury in a test tube doesn't mean the
gold salts will not be harmful to a young infant.
"Remember, the successful treatment was on a 12-year-old child
if indeed the gold salts were the cause of his autism remission.
Let's be exceptionally careful here and include every possible
safety factor before we start any major clinical study."
One relatively simple test was suggested by a parent: Try gold
salts -- which are still available by prescription -- on someone
who has both rheumatoid arthritis, for which its effectiveness
has been established, and autism, for which it has not.
The Meridian Institute authors made a similar suggestion. They
proposed "attending to the side effects of gold medications
where there is comorbidity of rheumatoid arthritis and a
neurological, psychiatric, or glandular disorder. ...
"One could ask, do patients with epilepsy, depression, or
adrenal insufficiency who may be receiving gold salts for
arthritis show any improvement in neurological/glandular
symptoms? Although neurological adverse effects are rare,
beneficial side effects might be found."
As the calendar turns to 2006, the day may be coming when their
question is answered.
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