The image shows a close up of blood cells, some of which have evidence of increased levels of lead.
Researchers identified that children with autism had higher levels of a number of toxic metals in their blood and urine samples compared to those of children without autism. Higher levels of cadmium and mercury were most common. Credit to Herbert L. Fred, MD and Hendrik A. van Dijk.

Higher Levels of Several Toxic Metals Found in Children With Autism

In a recently published study in the journal Biological Trace Element Research, Arizona State University researchers report that children with autism had higher levels of several toxic metals in their blood and urine compared to typical children. The study involved 55 children with autism ages five to 16 years old compared to 44 controls of similar age and gender.

The autism group had significantly higher levels of lead in their red blood cells (+41 percent) and significantly higher urinary levels of lead (+74 percent), thallium (+77 percent), tin (+115 percent), and tungsten (+44 percent). Lead, thallium, tin, and tungsten are toxic metals that can impair brain development and function, and also interfere with the normal functioning of other body organs and systems.

The image shows a close up of blood cells, some of which have evidence of increased levels of lead.
Researchers identified that children with autism had higher levels of a number of toxic metals in their blood and urine samples compared to those of children without autism. Higher levels of cadmium and mercury were most common. Credit to Herbert L. Fred, MD and Hendrik A. van Dijk.

A statistical analysis was conducted to determine if the levels of toxic metals were associated with autism severity, using three different scales of autism severity. It was found that 38 to 47 percent of the variation of autism severity was associated with the level of several toxic metals, with cadmium and mercury being the most strongly associated.

In the paper about the study, the authors state “We hypothesize that reducing early exposure to toxic metals may help ameliorate symptoms of autism, and treatment to remove toxic metals may reduce symptoms of autism; these hypotheses need further exploration, as there is a growing body of research to support it.”

The study was led by James Adams, a President’s Professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He directs the ASU Autism/Asperger’s Research Program.

Adams previously published a study on the use of DMSA, an FDA-approved medication for removing toxic metals. The open-label study found that DMSA was generally safe and effective at removing some toxic metals. It also found that DMSA therapy improved some symptoms of autism. The biggest improvement was for children with the highest levels of toxic metals in their urine.

Overall, children with autism have higher average levels of several toxic metals, and levels of several toxic metals are strongly associated with variations in the severity of autism for all three of the autism severity scales investigated.

Notes about this autism research

The study was funded by the Autism Research Institute and the Legacy Foundation.

Contact: Joe Kullman – Arizona State University
Source: Arizona State University press release
Image Source: Image credited to Herbert L. Fred, MD and Hendrik A. van Dijk via Wikimedia Commons and licensed as Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
Original Research: Abstract for “Toxicological Status of Children with Autism vs. Neurotypical Children and the Association with Autism Severity” by James B. Adams, Tapan Audhya, Sharon McDonough-Means, Robert A. Rubin, David Quig, Elizabeth Geis, Eva Gehn, Melissa Loresto, Jessica Mitchell, Sharon Atwood, Suzanne Barnhouse and Wondra Lee in Biological Trace Element Research. Published online February 2013 DOI: 10.1007/s12011-012-9551-1

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