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An epidemiological analysis of the ‘autism as mercury poisoning’ hypothesis

Abstract

Where direct experimental research into a causal hypothesis of a disease is impossible due to ethical and practical considerations, epidemiological inference is the accepted route to establishing cause. Therefore, to examine the autism as mercury poisoning hypothesis, this paper reviews the existing scientific literature within the context of established epidemiological criteria and finds that the evidence for a causal relationship is compelling. Exposure to mercury (via vaccines and maternal dental amalgam) in utero and during infant years is confirmed; mercury poisoning is known to cause symptoms consistent with autism; animal modeling supports the link and, critically, mercury levels are higher in both the urine and blood of autistic children than in non-autistic peers. Analogous to epidemiological evidence of the smoking–lung cancer relationship, a mercury–autism relationship is confirmed. The precautionary principle demands that health professionals not take an action if there is suspicion that the action may cause severe or lifelong health effects: it does not require certainty. Therefore, given the severity, devastating lifelong impact and extremely high prevalence of autism, it would be negligent to continue to expose pregnant and nursing mothers and infant children to any amount of avoidable mercury.