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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

(reply to Anonymous)

Where did you hear that, Brian Deer's blog? People complain that everything has to be from scientists and doctors, yet they happily quote Brian Deer, a SUNDAY TIMES journalist with no medical training, who got into the BMJ. Incredible really and about as likely as them letting ME get published in the BMJ.
The recent lot of articles about it in the BMJ were admitted by the editor to be PAID FOR by Merck, manufacturer of MMR. Hardly impartial.


'The BMJ Group receives advertising and sponsorship revenue from vaccine manufacturers, and specifically from Merck and GSK, which both manufacture MMR vaccines'.

If he did turn down funding (and I'm waiting to hear details), it might have been from one of the companies that were clearly expecting him to prove it was safe. You can't be impartial or do proper science if you're being paid by drug companies that have a vested interest in you approving their product. It's a widespread problem in medicine and not just with vaccines.

And he did do a study and found that of 91 autistic children, 75 had bowel disease with measles vaccine strain virus in their gut:


One of the studies that says MMR is not associated with autism only used a total of 38 children (25 autism cases, 13 that just had GI complaints). The study said that: '12 of 25 cases (48%) received MMR before GI episodes began as compared with 3 of 13 controls'.

Apart from being statistically very difficult to draw conclusions from such a small group, that still amounts to 15 cases of GI disturbance and/or regressive autism in children after receipt of MMR, out of 38 who had suffered symptoms, which is worrying and hardly proves safety.


And they also excluded anyone who'd been vaccinated less than 6 months prior. Why is that?? (genuine question), is that because there would be measles virus in the gut if vaccinated less than 6 months prior? Or was it to reduce the number of regressive autism/GI cases? A lot of parents I know informed me that their child regressed within weeks after, not months.

September 10, 2011 - 6:46am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Joanna Karpasea-Jones)

"And he did do a study and found that of 91 autistic children, 75 had bowel disease with measlesvaccine strain virus in their gut:

OK, let’s try this again. By citing Wakefield’s PCR work you indicate that you don’t understand either PCR or the evidence that shows in excruciating detail that Wakefield was wrong.

Wakefield was able to produce positive results even when there was NO SAMPLE in the reaction mixture. The laboratory was contaminated. The contaminant was DNA. (Measles is an RNA virus.) http://www.badscience.net/wp-content/uploads/erp_mmr.pdf

Wakefield’s reactions depended on the use of specific nucleotide sequences (PCR primers) to react with the measles sequences. Those primers, however, also reacted to HUMAN DNA to produce false-positive reactions in almost all (97%) samples from children with ASD. Wakefield did not do the necessary follow-up work to determine if the results were in fact simply false positives. When other scientists performed the necessary follow-up tests (e.g., careful examination of melting curves and/or sequencing the reaction products) they determined that the reactions produced only FALSE positive results. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/4/1664.full.pdf+html

These primers (and also primers used by Wakefield and Kawashima) reacted with human DNA in gut biopsy samples to produce false positive results. ALL of the samples produced false-positive results with Wakefield’s primers; 10 of 41 samples produced initially positive results with the Kawashima primers, but 9 of those 10 reaction products were actually homologous to HUMAN mitochondrial DNA sequences rather than to measles virus, while the remaining initially positive sample did not correspond to measles sequences. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1954854/?tool=pubmed#ref6

(BTW, Wakefield earlier claimed to find measles virus in samples from patients with Crohn’s disease, but there, too, Wakefield was wrong because his test detected a HUMAN protein rather than measles virus.)

September 10, 2011 - 8:24am
(reply to Anonymous)

Firstly, Bad Science are very strongly pro-vaccine and anti natural medicine and they try to trash everything that questions the status quo, so I would think that is the pro equivalent of looking on an anti-vaccine website.

I would think a gastroenterologist who had worked at the Royal Free for 14 years or so before the 1998 paper would be intelligent enough to know the difference between measles virus and human DNA. And that was on THEIR tests, not Wakefield's, so it's still hypothetical. If they really wanted to find out they could have asked Wakefield to repeat the tests in their presence and then do the follow up checks on HIS samples, if there was any question over competancy.

Again, how do they really know that Wakefield detected human DNA with the Crohns study? They didn't analyse HIS work, they just tried to re-create their own and they had a vested interest before they started. It says on the study:

BJW has served on a number of Canadian and US government advisory committees addressing the issues of vaccine use and safety between 1994 and 2006. He has provided expert testimony for both the US and Quebec vaccine injury compensation programs. Dr Ward has also provided advice and teaching to Canadian government and industry groups in the area of vaccine immunology. He has conducted and participated in several studies of measles vaccine safety sponsored by Canadian and US government funding agencies. He has also conducted a small number of phase I and phase II industry‐sponsored clinical trials of non‐licensed vaccines for smaller biotechnology companies. He has conducted a single, company‐sponsored, immunological study of a licensed, acellular pertussis vaccine.'

He has worked for biotech companies in which he was sponsored by 'industry', and has done 'expert testimony' in vaccine injury cases for the US and Quebec which sounds like he is arguing for the vaccine manufacturer and against the victim.

He should not have been allowed to take part in anything like that.

Also the paper says 'Controversy in response to this claim resulted in falling measles vaccination rates, mainly in the UK. Immediate concerns were raised regarding several aspects of these studies'


'These allegations further damaged confidence in MV vaccination programmes.'

That is the motivation behind such a thing, preserving the measles vaccine program, not the welfare of the children.

They also say:

'Our results suggest at least one plausible mechanism for what we believe to have been false‐positive results reported in the Kawashima and Uhlmann studies. '

The way this is worded sounds more like another hypothises and that they went in hoping to find a mechanism for their already present belief that the study was false.

Perhaps there were design faults with the study, but with conflicts of interest and people working on it who are clearly paid by vaccine companies, I wouldn't trust them either.

Instead of trying to prove that MMR is safe again and again, they should be trying to help the children and slow down the numbers getting autism.

They already know viruses can cause neurological dysfunction so theoretically vaccine viruses could do the same.


This says there are viruses in the brains of autistic patients that they have extracted during post-mortem so it's not that revolutionary to implicate measles virus.

September 10, 2011 - 12:16pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Joanna Karpasea-Jones)

You misunderstand. The first paper that I linked was not written for the Bad Science web site, that’s simply where you can most readily find it. Your criticism is ridiculous.

In fact, that paper represents a distillation of over 1,500 that Dr. Bustin (an acknowledged expert on the polymerase chain reaction that was the essential technique Wakefield used in the paper that you cited) devoted to analyzing the equipment, techniques, equipment, and original laboratory notebooks used in Wakefield’s work. The paper succinctly details the problems associated with Wakefield’s work, and shows that Wakefield could conjure a positive result from a reaction where that result should be quite impossible. For a fuller account of Bustin’s smackdown of Wakefield’s work, you can read his testimony at the Cedillo hearing at the Omnibus Autism Proceedings.

“I would think a gastroenterologist who had worked at the Royal Free for 14 years or so before the 1998 paper would be intelligent enough to know the difference between measles virus and human DNA.”

You misunderstand. Bustin’s analysis of Wakefield’s work clearly shows that Wakefield’s reactions produced “positive” results due to the presence of DNA contamination in reactions which included no sample at all, and the other papers clearly show that the PCR primers used in Wakefield’s work produced false-positive results by reacting with human DNA sequences. That’s not surprising: virtually any PCR reaction can produce false positive results with human DNA. The real challenge of PCR work is to make the reaction as specific as possible to reduce that possibility and then to check whether results that initially seem to be positive are truly positive or false positives.

“Again, how do they really know that Wakefield detected human DNA with the Crohns study?”
The authors used the same primers that Wakefield used. They demonstrated that the reactions almost invariably produced false-positive results that could only be shown to be false by performing additional careful analysis that Wakefield did not do. The authors sequenced reaction products and demonstrated that they corresponded to human DNA and not to measles sequences. The authors were not able to perform the tests on the sample that had been used in Wakefield’s work; I understand that those important samples cannot be located. However, Wakefield’s student Dr. Nick Chadwick testified that when he tested gut biopsy samples from autistic children for measles virus RNA in Wakefield’s own lab at the Royal Free Hospital, “I used a method to see whether [the initial results] were real positive results or false positive, and in every case they turned out to be false positive results.”

September 10, 2011 - 4:19pm
(reply to Anonymous)

I'll reply to this later today - it's 2 in the morning in the UK.

September 9, 2011 - 6:04pm
(reply to Joanna Karpasea-Jones)

While you're at it, please explain why Wakefield called no witnesses, despite the fact that he publicly "welcomed" the GMC investigation.

September 9, 2011 - 6:54pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to AutismNewsBeat)

I suppose the possible replies will rely on Wakefield's own accounts; since Wakefield was found to be dishonest by the UK General Medical Council and the editors of the British Medical Journal accused him of scientific fraud (the hospital where Wakefield worked is now investigating that charge), I suppose we must trust Wakefield's thoroughly disinterested account of his actions. After all, Wakefield was the fellow who wrote: "“[T]he widespread use of MMR immunization is a major determinant of the apparent (now substantiated) increase in rates of autism.” [Pediatrics 2001; 107; e84]

Yeah. I suppose that the Institute of Medicine disagrees with Wakefield because everyone at the National Academy of Sciences is in the pocket of Big Pharma, but Wakefield was paid only the equivalent of about three-quarters of a million dollars for this work:
"The objective,” [Wakefield] and his retaining solicitor had written in the application to the legal board, “is to seek evidence which will be acceptable in a court of law of the causative connection between either the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine or the measles/rubella vaccine and certain conditions which have been reported with considerable frequency by families of children who are seeking compensation.” [BMJ 2011; 342]

Strong work, don't you think, to know what you will find BEFORE you have examined the first patient with what you expect to call a new syndrome?

September 9, 2011 - 7:23pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

How is it that you have not become so embarrassed by your continued and egregious inaccuracies and misunderstandings that you continue to post?

September 9, 2011 - 5:41pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Most anti-vaxers are immune to embarrassment. I love irony.

September 9, 2011 - 6:57pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Because I study the science same as you. Just because 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, does not mean that my viewpoint is less valid than your viewpoint.

I am not remotely embarrassed, as long as I source my writing with medical studies and I'm not making things up, then that's fine. In fact, I quite enjoy a good medical debate and I find that these kind of debates are useful because other people can read them and gain something from it. Maybe they will agree with your viewpoint, and maybe not. The point is, it's about education and parental empowerment no matter what they decide to do.

Some people who are very strongly for vaccines no matter what, seem not to want to have any discussion of the subject or have anyone look at opposing studies and I think that's a shame because people deserve to know everything before they have a treatment. After all, you wouldn't have surgery without asking the surgeon questions.

I'm off to bed now as it's 2 in the morning where I am and I must sleep at some point tonight (let's have a virtual *hug* and communicate more positively towards one another).

Night night!

September 9, 2011 - 6:01pm
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