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Autism's Theoretical Causes: Mercury and Vaccines--An Editorial

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Autism related image Photo: Getty Images

In addition to genetics and metabolism, mercury exposure and vaccines have been implicated as a possible cause of autism. My previous article covered studies about genetic and metabolism causes and this article continues with research regarding vaccines.

Old style DPT vaccines used to contain thimerosal, a 49 percent mercury compound. Some DTaP vaccines still contain small amounts of mercury, according to the CDC Pink Book. Other vaccines, such as Hepatitis B and flu shots contain the full amount of thimerosal.

Some researchers believe that the increasing number of vaccines given at one time to a developing infant are a cause of autism, particularly as the blood/brain barrier is not yet complete.

A study in the Annals of Epidemiology found that newborn boys who had received Hepatitis B vaccine were three times more likely to be diagnosed with an ASD compared with boys who hadn’t had the jab.

"Findings suggest that U.S. male neonates vaccinated with hepatitis B vaccine had a 3-fold greater risk of ASD; risk was greatest for non-white boys." (2)

Autism symptoms and mercury poisoning symptoms are virtually identical. The Journal of Immunotoxicology wrote:

"Autistic brains show neurotransmitter irregularities that are virtually identical to those arising from mercury exposure. Due to the extensive parallels between autism and mercury poisoning, the likelihood of a causal relationship is great."

These neurotransmitter irregularities may be the reason why some autistic children have sensory processing disorders. (1)

MMR Vaccine

MMR vaccine is considered a possible cause of autism. In 1998 a gastroenterologist called Andrew Wakefield and his team of clinicians identified 12 children, eight of whom suffered regressive autism and gastrointestinal disease. After publishing this case paper, concluding that it did NOT prove an association with MMR, Dr. Wakefield studied a further 161 children, 91 of whom had bowel disease and a further 70 who did not.

He found measles virus in the guts of 75 of the children with bowel disease and only in five of the healthy children. He called this condition "measles enterocolitis". It was already widely known that wild measles virus can cause colitis so theoretically a live virus vaccine like MMR could do the same. (3 and 4)

A further three children with regressive autism were found to have measles vaccine virus in their cerebrospinal fluid after a spinal tap had been performed.

"In light of encephalopathy presenting as autistic regression (autistic encephalopathy, AE) closely following measles-mumps rubella (MMR) vaccination, three children underwent cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) assessments including studies for measles virus (MV). All three children had concomitant onset of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and had already had MV genomic RNA detected ... None of the cases or controls had a history of measles exposure other than MMR vaccination."

They thought this raised the possibility of virally-driven brain damage resulting in some cases of regressive autism. (5)

Early life exposure to mercury and other metals, followed by exposure to live viruses could potentially tip the child into autoimmunity.

Fetal Tissue

Some vaccine viruses are cultured on fetal tissue cells obtained from aborted fetuses. Although it isn’t an added ingredient, trace amounts of fetal DNA will remain in the vaccine. Vaccines that contain fetal DNA include MMR, varicella, some Hepatitis B vaccines and Hepatitis A.

Children can produce antibodies to all components of vaccines and not merely the viruses or bacteria, so injecting fetal DNA can cause the child to develop antibodies to human tissue, another possible factor in autism.

Doctors in Portugal blood tested 171 autistic patients, 191 parents and 54 healthy people and found that the autistic patients had high levels of non-inherited antibodies to their own brain tissue. (6)

Spikes in the incidence of autism were seen in the UK in 1988 when the MMR was introduced and in the United States in 1995 when varicella vaccine was introduced, pointing to a possible link with fetal tissue in vaccines. (1)

It is important that research into the childhood vaccination schedule be continued, particularly while rates of autism show no sign of slowing down.


1. Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes—A review, Journal of Immunotoxicology. Web. 8 September 2011.

2. Hepatitis B Vaccination of Male Neonates and Autism, Annals of Epidemiology. Web. 8 September 2011.

3. Measles study raises bowel disease link, BBC News (2002). Web. 8 September 2011.

4. Enterocolitis, autism and measles virus, Molecular Psychiatry. Web. 8 September 2011.

5. Detection of Measles Virus Genomic RNA in Cerebrospinal Fluid of Children with Regressive Autism: a Report of Three Cases, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Web. 8 September 2011. http://www.jpands.org/vol9no2/bradstreet.pdf

6. Autoantibody repertoires to brain tissue in autism nuclear families, Journal of Neuroimmunology. Web. 8 September 2011.

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting.

She is a mother of five who practised drug-free home birth, delayed cord clamping, full term breast feeding, co-sleeping, home schooling and flexi schooling and is an advocate of raising children on organic food.

Reviewed September 8, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment87 Comments

EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I'm sorry, but if you go back to any old medical text, 50's and 60's, you will find that medics said one shot for life. Even in the 90's they thought one shot. See this poster, 'Stop measles with just one shot'.


The US Surgeon General, William Stewart, wrote a notice to parents in 1963, saying 'vaccinated ONCE, there is every indication that he is protected for LIFE from this dangerous disease' (measles). That was sent out to all American parents to encourage them to vaccinate.

That is what parents understood vaccination to be, to gain immunity to the illness so you don't get it. The definition of what vaccines do has loosened over the years. After they realised one shot would not do it, they then brought in boosters and now they say you can still get a mild case.

In fact, this paper says 'A vaccine generates an acquired active immune response leading to long-lasting (possibly lifelong) protection ' (which is obviously not true).


As the above study I showed you says, not having the rash doesn't mean you aren't infectious. You can still pass full blown whooping cough to a newly born infant.

Expression of symptoms such as rash in other illnesses is thought to be beneficial by some medical professionals, a way of releasing the toxins from the body. So for instance, not getting the rash in measles may cause a more serious illness:

' Immunocompromised patients may not have a rash and can develop severe, progressive giant cell pneumonia. Atypical measles syndrome usually occurs in people previously immunized with the original killed-virus measles vaccines, which have been unavailable since 1968. The older vaccines can alter disease expression after infection with wild-type measles. Atypical measles syndrome may begin abruptly, with high fever, prostration, headache, abdominal pain, and cough. The rash may appear 1 to 2 days later, often beginning on the extremities, and may be maculopapular, vesicular, urticarial, or purpuric. Edema of the hands and feet may occur. Pneumonia and hilar adenopathy are common and may be prolonged; chest x-ray abnormalities may persist for weeks to months. Symptomatic hypoxemia may occur.'


They say this only happened with the single measles injection but it is widely acknowledged, as you just said, that vaccines can result in a mildly presenting illness. This altered disease expression can cause a more severe type of illness, lasting months and with a higher encephalitis rate. Not having rashes is a sign of an altered immune response and is not good.

Vaccines also cause the diseases to mutate, so if you vaccinate against pertussis, it encourages another form, parapertussis to develop:



The CDC say this parapertussis is a more aggressive form, see the CDC page here:


So no, I don't think that can count as immunization. I think it is the alteration of the expression of the disease.

October 14, 2011 - 2:14am
EmpowHER Guest

I think the problem is that the public ends up reading abstracts and papers without the proper education necessary to adequately critique scientific methods. The vast majority of the conclusions written in discussions and abstracts are conjecture that is merely hinted to by the data to make studies sound more important than they are. They also fail to account for causal relationships and do not adequately address confounding bias. These issues are further compounded by sampling issues and sample size issues. To put it more simply, the quality of the science in papers reporting no association between vaccines and autism is for the most part far superior then those that claim the opposite.

The Wakefield paper is a perfect case as it was used as ammunition for a vaccine-autism link when any scientist could clearly see that the paper was a small case series with no controls, linking three common conditions and relying on parental recall. Each of these factors making all observations for the Wakefield paper inconclusive. We don't even have to take into account that the paper was a complete fraud. Then contrast his paper (or other papers such as the one linking acetaminophen use, vaccines and autism) with papers like so:




Which are done on large populations, are controlled for confounding bias and rely on reliable medical records and you can see the case for vaccines causing the majority of autism cases is very thin.

September 21, 2011 - 3:26pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Well put!

It reminds me that the Journal of Parapsychology is listed as a peer reviewed scholarly journal by EBSCO in their Academic Search Premier database.

People are going to believe what they want to believe because we humans are irrational. Thank goodness for those with an open mind who adhere to the principle of the scientific method . But there is not a lot of harm that comes with belief in UFOs or ghosts.

The problem with this particular issue is that children will die as the result of people misguidedly acting to protect their children from autism. Children who were to young for vaccinations or people who have compromised immune systems will die if the number of non-immunized children reach a certain threshold.

September 22, 2011 - 2:25am

Thank you for the correct information on Andrew Wakefield. Most of the time we're merely told he's a British doctor who published a study falsely linking the MMR vaccine to autism.

According to this article, that's simply not true. Rarely are we told that he was a British gastroenterologist who wrote a paper, not a study, about a novel form of bowel disease he observed in 12 children who had developed this condition along with autism after receiving the MMR vaccine. It was their parents who came to him for help. It was the parents who said these children became sick after the MMR. To hear their story, see:
Those criticizing Wakefield never mention that the British government indemnified the manufacturer of the MMR. The government will be liable for the damages if it's recognized that this vaccine triggers autism. Lots of people have everything at stake in this issue.
To listen to Wakefield's side in this debate, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pizs-RcrZJU .

Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism

September 11, 2011 - 11:52am
(reply to amdachel)

Nice to *meet* you, Anne. Yes I forgot to mention the fact that the government took on liability due to the aspectic meningitis problem. Thanks for reminding me.

September 12, 2011 - 3:15am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to amdachel)

Dachel again misses the point:

It's been clear for years that Wakefield was wrong. There is no association between receipt of MMR and the onset of ASD and bowel complaints.

It doesn't matter if Wakefield was dishonest (although the UK General Medical Council judged that it was "found proved" that he was in fact dishonest); it doesn't matter if his work was fraudulent (although the editors of the British Medical Journal wrote: "there is no doubt" that it was Wakefield who perpetrated an "elaborate fraud"); what matters is just that Wakefield was wrong.

September 11, 2011 - 4:03pm

"So you're saying the CDC are wrong, now?"

No. I'm saying a true increase in autism cases cannot be determined through a prevalence study. Do you know that in the last ADDM study, about 23% of the children identified with an ASD had no previous record of an autism spectrum diagnosis before they were interviewed by the CDC investigators? In other words, one quarter of the children with autism today are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

The first port of call in science is to separate the wheat of truth from the chaff of nonsense. Human recall is unreliable, and when we rely on our own recollections and emotions to determine the truth, we too often end up with nonsense. EmpowHER's mission, as I understand, is to "improve womens' health and change their lives by providing credible health content." That means following the evidence, wherever it may lead, even if it upends your own preconceived conclusions. When it comes to understanding the scientific method, Joanna, I'm afraid you missed the boat.

September 11, 2011 - 8:16am
(reply to AutismNewsBeat)

Just because there are cases that are undiagnosed (and I agree with you, there are), doesn't mean there would have been the same amount of undiagnosed cases back then, you can't know that, it's impossible to know that.

I know that human recall is not perfect, but neither is science. The first thing scientists should do is listen to the patients. There are parents with before and after video tapes, medical records etc showing illness afterwards but not before and they just aren't listened to.

The people I have worked with were pro-vaccine by the very nature of the fact that they got vaccines. They were welcomed into getting vaccines. I got vaccines for myself and didn't think anything of it because you trust your doctor. Then when something goes wrong afterwards, they shut the door in your face. You're either crazy, making it up or it's 'just a coincidence'. They refuse to report anything so the statistics they're working with just aren't accurate. If you look at VAERS for information they say 'oh, that isn't accurate because it may not be related to vaccines' so you can't even use government information when trying to judge safety or find out what happened to you.
Well, why would any scientist, any government create a system that relied on passive reporting? Why, since they say VAERS is no good and the vaccine program is universal and covers almost the entire population (except for maybe in some third world areas), would they not have a system that is reliable, where doctors have to report reactions, so that the information they collect is more than anecdotal? This is so important for something that is so widespread.

Why not do proper double blinded studies of totally unvaccinated vs. vaccinated (without using aluminium as a placebo or anything like that).

Because until that is done, one cannot argue accurately for or against or know really what is going on here.

I have never advised people not to vaccinate, although sometimes people ask me what to do. I tell them I cannot say, for they are the parent. If they ask me my personal opinion I will say what I did.

I am merely exploring some of the theories behind autism, hence the word 'theoretical' in the title. I don't believe that all autism is caused by vaccines (but some of the research out there has shown concern that there may be a problem with it) and I think there are other theoretical causes too, like pollution, certain medications, birth injuries, defective sperm etc etc and I intend to write about all of them. I'm not going to disclude vaccines just because it's a hot potato issue.

And I notice no one answered my questions, while expecting me to answer yours.

September 12, 2011 - 3:11am

So you're saying the CDC are wrong, now? And all the studies that say autism has increased?? What about all the parents of autistic children? I mean, come on, I know (and not connected through my work), 4 autistic kids just on a personal friends and neighbours basis. There just wasn't any kids like this when I was growing up, not that I met, anyway. In fact, in high school there were only 2 disabled kids (myself due to prematurity and my friend who got severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis after a single measles jab at 2 years old) out of around 600 kids. There was no one with autism or ASD.

In fact, when I was 14 I ended up with an ASD, at that age and despite never having one before that came on directly after BCG vaccination which is incidently how I came to be interested in patient advocacy. Immediately after I was extremely tired and this exhaustion lasted for several days, then I became severely depressed despite the fact I was happy before that and had never had a psych illness. I was dizzy all the time and getting temperatures that would come and go and then a few weeks after the temperatures, my ears began hurting, then I lost my hearing for 2 days which was very scary, then my sound tolerance collapsed completely and it felt like someone turned the volume switch on the world up to maximum. Absolutely terrible pain, you can't even go out because the sound of cars is just so painful, in fact any sound at all. I was also panicked, would jump if someone opened a door, became distressed if plans were changed, totally terrified of open spaces whereas before I wasn't, massive headaches. Eventually I was diagnosed with sensory processing disorders (that are part of ASD) and they said a neuro-transmitter problem meant my brain could no longer interpret things around me correctly. Aside from my disability, I was healthy before and hardly ever needed a doctor, I was happy and confident and my hearing was normal. The exhaustion started the day of my BCG jab and then all the other problems followed. I know it caused it, I know. But of course it wasn't reported because according to the doctor the only thing I could get from it is a sore arm.
So what happened is not on the statistics for how safe vaccines are or not, and that is usually what happens.

You can argue between prevalence and incidence as much as you like, but all you're trying to do is come up with excuses - ways to hide the increase because it doesn't fit in with your viewpoint.

The first port of call is science should be to listen to the parents and observe what is clearly going on around you, before relying on statistics. At the end of the day I could come up with statistics to prove my point and so could you because people can make the statistics say whatever they want to support their conclusion.

September 11, 2011 - 4:03am

Joanna wrote in her article (not the comments)
"Some researchers believe that the increasing number of vaccines given at one time to a developing infant are a cause of autism"

I am sure that Joanna will provide citations for peer-reviewed papers that identify "some researchers" and provide evidence for the hypothesis for the "increasing numbers of vaccines" are a cause of autism.

After all, she wrote,

"Because I study the science same as you.... I came to a different conclusion after reading THOUSANDS of studies over the years, and knowing quite a few medical professionals who feel the same way I do"

Surely she can cite a few of those "thousands of studies".

And because she studies the science, she will also be able to site those studies that have not found any connection between changes in the vaccine schedule and changes in reported autism figures.

[side note: pubmed search on "vaccines"+ "autism" = 532; "measles" + autism" = 422; "thimerosal" + "autism" = 142; "vaccine injury" = 103; Note also that there are significant overlaps in citations for each category]

September 10, 2011 - 11:19pm
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