Cynthia A. Janak
January 15, 2009
Chelation therapy good for some but not for all
By Cynthia A. Janak

I have always found it amazing the double standard that exists between certain groups of people.

Some people are able to get preferred medical treatment, preferred seating in restaurants, quicker service and the list goes on. Then you have the other people which are the majority who are average hard working people. They get bumped whenever one of the preferred people enters the establishment.

What brought me to this topic was the recent article written in The New York Times about Paul Offit's book "Autism's False Prophets" January 12th, 2009 and on January 13th, 2009 there is an article on ABC News about the actor Jeremy Piven that had to leave the Broadway revival of "Speed-the-Plow" because of mercury poisoning.

I am going to start with the article about Paul Offit's book. I am going to give you snippets from the article and go on to the article about Jeremy Piven.

...hundreds of children with diagnoses of autism have undergone what he considers sham treatments and been "cured."

Dr. Offit's book, published in September by Columbia University Press, has been widely endorsed by pediatricians, autism researchers, vaccine companies and medical journalists who say it sums up, in layman's language, the scientific evidence for vaccines and forcefully argues that vulnerable parents are being manipulated by doctors promoting false cures and lawyers filing class-action suits.

"Opponents of vaccines have taken the autism story hostage," Dr. Offit said. "They don't speak for all parents of autistic kids, they use fringe scientists and celebrities, they've set up cottage industries of false hope, and they're hurting kids. Parents pay out of their pockets for dangerous treatments; they take out second mortgages to buy hyperbaric oxygen chambers. It's just unconscionable."

One group he criticizes harshly in the book is Generation Rescue, which advocates treating autistic children with wheat- and dairy-free diets, vitamins and chelation to remove mercury from the body.

J. B. Handley, who founded Generation Rescue in 2005, rejected Dr. Offit's attacks, saying: "We have hundreds of fully recovered children. I'm very frustrated that Dr. Offit, who's never treated an autistic child, is spending his time trying to refute the reality of biomedical recovery."

Dr. Offit's book... sums up 16 epidemiological studies showing no link between autism and either measles or thimerosal, a vaccine preservative.

As you can see with these snippets, Paul Offit is not a fan of chelation therapy, vitamins or treating children with wheat and dairy-free diets. It is also obvious that he feels that these are dangerous treatments.

Now let us go on to the story about actor Jeremy Piven who is suffering from mercury poisoning from eating sushi.

The actor said he had mercury poisoning, which left him too fatigued to keep up with the demanding role.

Dr. Carlon Colker, the primary internist treating the "Entourage" actor, detailed his debilitating condition.

"This is a situation of mercury toxicity," Colker, the medical director of Peak Wellness of Greenwich, Conn. (and a champion competitive bodybuilder) told "His level [of mercury] was quite high, almost six times the normal limit. ... In this case, it's either because of fish he ate sushi twice a day for years or because of the Chinese herbs he was taking, or both. We're pretty sure about the fish, how much the Chinese herbs contributed, we don't know. We don't have the specifics of which herbs he took."

"Right now he's being treated with bed rest; out of bed is tolerated," Colker continued. "He spent three days in the hospital, he's been discharged. He was seen by a Yale cardiologist and a professor emeritus of neurology. He's on some dietary supplements as well to protect his organ system function and to clear the mercury from the body. He also cannot eat fish."

"He'll be OK. I think it'll take a few weeks to a couple of months," Colker concluded. "Unfortunately it was like pulling teeth to get him out of the show. This is a situation that I think will resolve as long as he's attending to his health."

According to the EPA, the most common way people ingest mercury is by eating fish containing methylmercury (most often tuna or swordfish) or by breaking products containing elemental mercury (like, as Mamet suggested, a thermometer).

Mercury is one of the most dangerous toxins on earth. The amount of damage it can do to a person depends on when the person is exposed (as a fetus, child or adult), the type of exposure (whether it's swallowed, touched or inhaled) and the length of the exposure.

At its worst, inhaled mercury can cause brain damage or death. Swallowing mercury can cause permanent kidney damage or death. However, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, most exposure to mercury builds up over periods of years. In that case, mercury poisoning can cause numbness, tremors, blindness and memory problems.

Mercury poisoning treatment can last for months and usually consists of extended use of "chealator" drugs, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

This is where you have the double standard. Here you have Jeremy Piven who is listening to his doctors and specialists who are recommending Chelation and dietary supplements to help him rid his body of the mercury. Then you have Paul Offit calling this therapy dangerous and a sham for the average people.

I wonder why the disparity here. Could it be because if the average person used the therapy that Piven's doctors are recommending to help their autistic children those children might get better? Wouldn't that raise the red flag that mercury or aluminum might be the blame for all the problems that these autistic children and their parents have to face? It would seem so to me.

Here are a couple of other pieces that I thought you would find of interest. The first one comes from CBS.

(National Institute of Mental Health director) Insel said he has come to believe after listening to parents that traditional scientific research, building incrementally on animal studies and published papers, wasn't answering questions fast enough.

"This is an urgent set of questions," Insel said. "Let's make innovation the centerpiece of this effort as we study autism, its causes and treatments, and think of what we may be missing."

Last year, the National Institutes of Health spent less than 5 percent of its $127 million autism research budget on alternative therapies, Insel said. He said he is hopeful the chelation study will be approved.

Others say it would be unethical, even if it proves chelation doesn't work.

Federal research agencies must "bring reason to science" without "catering to a public misperception," said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of an upcoming book on autism research. "Science has been trumped by politics in some ways."

Offit is concerned vaccination rates may fall to dangerous levels because some parents believe they cause autism.

Dr. Martin Myers, former director of the federal National Vaccine Program Office, said he believes giving chelation to autistic children is unethical but says the government can justify the study because so many parents are using chelation without scientific evidence.

"It's incumbent on the scientific community to evaluate it," he said.

Here we have medical professionals saying that a study needs to be done to prove or disprove that chelation therapy works but you have Paul Offit being concerned about vaccination rates and happy the study was cancelled as reported in the USA Today article below.

Could it be that if this study was conducted and chelation therapy was proven to work that Offit's book would no longer be valid considering the purpose of the book?

The researchers had proposed recruiting 120 autistic children ages 4 to 10 and giving half a chelation drug and the other half a dummy pill. The 12-week test would measure before-and-after blood mercury levels and autism symptoms.

The study outline said that failing to find a difference between the two groups would counteract "anecdotal reports and widespread belief" that chelation works.

Autism is a spectrum of disorders that hamper a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. Most doctors believe there is no cure.

In canceling the study, the agency noted it would take another year to review the study and three years to do it. In the meantime, the agency said, it was likely that other research would "provide deeper understanding of the causes of autism and more refined avenues for developing treatments."

Several scientists praised the decision, including the lead author of the rat study, which found lingering problems in animals that did not have elevated lead levels.

(Why are they studying lead levels? I thought this was supposed to be a study of mercury? I could be wrong?)

"I think they're making the right decision not to go forward with the study," said Barbara Strupp, a professor of psychology and nutritional sciences at Cornell University.

"Our data raise concerns about administering (the chelation compound) to children who do not have elevated levels of heavy metals," Strupp said.

Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, agreed with the decision to cancel.

"Suppose that a child suffers a severe side effect from chelation," said Offit, author of "Autism's False Prophets," a new book on autism research. "Without any evidence it's helpful, I think it's unethical."

Who are we to believe here? Are we to believe Offit who agreed with the decision to cancel the only study on chelation or Pevin's specialists that are implementing the treatment to help their patient?

My opinion is that I lean to believing the doctors of Pevin because they have no ties to the pharmaceutical industry like Offit does to his past association with Merck.

"Suppose that a child suffers a severe side effect from chelation," said Offit,

This brings me to one of my favorite topics the Gardasil study. How is this unethical but the study for Gardasil was ethical when in the FDA documents for protocol 018 shows that 73.3% of the participants have "New Medical Conditions" and 46.6% had a serious adverse event. How is it ethical for Gardasil to be approved by the FDA but a study to prove or disprove Chelation will not be done?

I do not understand the double standard here.

© Cynthia A. Janak


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Cynthia A. Janak

Cynthia Janak is a freelance journalist, mother of three, foster mother of one, grandmother of five, business owner, Chamber of Commerce member... (more)


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