autism's source from blood hints(article from Experimental Biology 2005 meeting)

Waldorf Mom

New Member
One of my homeschooling e-groups (where there are a number of children with autism) passed this newly published article along to everyone. Thought you might find it interesting...

-Waldorf Mom

Blood hints at autism's source
Janet Raloff

From San Diego, at the Experimental Biology 2005 meeting
Researchers have identified a biochemical peculiarity in the blood of autistic children. The scientists say the finding could lead to earlier diagnosis of this neurological disorder and a better understanding of how certain genes may drive it.

Autism, which typically shows up in toddlers, is characterized by limited language skills, poor social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and limited interests. Autism often runs in families, which suggests a genetic cause.

However, "the incidence of autism has gone up dramatically in the last 15 years," notes S. Jill James, director of biochemical genetics at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. "Because genes don't change that fast, this points to something in the environment as a trigger," she says.

In a study of the blood of some apparently healthy children, the biochemistry of one sample stood out. It came from an autistic boy. Curious, James got blood samples from 20 other autistic children. All exhibited a similar, unusual biochemical fingerprint, which James has now confirmed in an additional 75 autistic children. None in a comparison group of 75 neurologically healthy kids carried the fingerprint in his or her blood.

The autistic youngsters had unusually low concentrations of the antioxidant glutathione in their cells. Their ratio of active glutathione to its inactive breakdown products also was unusually low.

"This pattern is consistent with an inability to detoxify [poisons], especially heavy metals," such as mercury or lead, James says. That's because the antioxidant normally binds to heavy metals, and the body then targets the molecular complex for elimination.
Any of several combinations of genes may predispose the body to low glutathione concentrations. James suspects that autism develops under the combined effect of several gene mutations that deplete glutathione and of exposure of a child to heavy metals or other poisons. One of the most controversial theories about autism is that vaccines preserved with the mercury-containing chemical thimerosal can cause the condition SN: 11/13/04, p. 311:

Dietary treatments could boost glutathione in children carrying genes that reduce the antioxidant, says James.

Sara PA

New Member
Along the same line, these are two articles about autism among the Amish. While there is well documented history of bipolar disorder among specific families in the Amish of Lancaster County, there is virtually no autism. Generally the Amish do not vaccinate their children.
If Thimerosal/heavy metals can trigger genes related to autism, why not genes related to other neurological conditions like seizures, ADD/ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar, etc?

(While full doses of Thimerosal were eliminated from the production of most pediatric vaccines in 1999, the last of those vaccines did not hit their expiration date until Jan. 2003. Those vaccines were not destroyed by were used in the normal manner. Any child vaccinated from a multi-stick vial has most likely been vaccinated with Thimerosal containing vaccines.)


Well-Known Member
Can't be the only trigger. My son has always acted autistic, even before he had MMR. However, his birthmom used drugs, which could be a trigger too, I'm told. They know so little of the cause and I wonder if higher functioning autism is caught in Amish society. By it's nature, the Amish culture would be pretty good for an autistic child who is on the higher functioning end. Lots of structure, close family, strict rules, etc. Very interesting. Always good to see thinking people trying to figure out the "why" of Autism.


New Member
I think it would be difficult to get a true idea of the rates of autism in the Amish society. They're a pretty closed group and don't really like to associate with the "English" - anyone who's not Amish. Seems like it would be difficult to do any kind of study...

Also, if they don't like to associate with outsiders, wouldn't we just attribute their lack of social interaction to the culture? I visited an Amish village years ago, and seems that there wasn't a lot of eye contact - but is that because they didn't want to encourage conversation with the English, or because some of them might be High-Functioning Autism (HFA)? Who knows? It would be interesting if someone can get to the bottom of that...

My son, I believe, was AS from birth. I can't blame the vaccines. It is truly genetic in my family. I can see it all over the place.

Very interesting topic - I hope we get definitive answers on the vaccine issue soon!

Sara PA

New Member
The MMR vaccine never contained Thimerosal though virtually every other vaccine did (and a few still do).

The Lancaster County Amish aren't a particularly closed society. They keep separate but they aren't issolated. They have allowed researchers a great deal of access in doing the bipolar studies. But they are a close enough group that if there are autistic children, everyone in the community would know about it.

Many children have received Thimerosal (mercury) containing vaccines within the first 24 hours after birth. Thimerosal was (is?) also contained in Rhogam, the vaccine given to mothers with Rh- problems. Considering mercury is a known fetal toxin, one would have to question why it was in these products.


New Member
Sara - which vaccines are you talking about?
Many children have received Thimerosal (mercury) containing vaccines within the first 24 hours after birth.
Which vaccines have thimerosol? I thought, like Midwest Mom, that the MMR one did.

In my situation, however, I still think it's genetic. I doubt that my father had any vaccines within the first 24 hours of his birth, and I'm certain that he was AS (he was born in Cuba in 1925). I never knew my grandfather (father's father) but from the stories I hear of him, he was probably AS as well. Several of my uncles could also fall into that category.

I do agree that there seems to be a huge increase in autism cases, and we really need to explore all the issues.

I did read an article years ago, which suggested that since the advent of computers, socially awkward people (read, possible AS or High-Functioning Autism (HFA)) who work in the computer industry, now have the possibility of finding mates or love interests within their industry. More people with autism are marrying and producing children. Previously, it might have been difficult for a person like that to find a suitable match.

"High tech hot spots like the Valley, and Route 128 outside of Boston, are a curious oxymoron: They're fraternal associations of loners. In these places, if you're a geek living in the high-functioning regions of the spectrum, your chances of meeting someone who shares your perseverating obsession (think Linux or Star Trek) are greatly expanded. As more women enter the IT workplace, guys who might never have had a prayer of finding a kindred spirit suddenly discover that she's hacking Perl scripts in the next cubicle. "

Here's the full article:


Well-Known Member
I wonder why it's in the products, but don't think it's the cause of all autism. I don't know if it's the cause of some or not. Nobody knows. My guess is one day they'll find a genetic marker, like they do with most disorders, but I do like to keep up on all theories. I think high functioning autism used to be overlooked a lot so the rates have gone up as awareness grew. i know it's even hard to get a diagnosis for higher functioning autisms even now so it makes sense that the rates seem to be going up as we learn more. Autism used to be diagnosed mostly to kids who were very severe. My own child would have been completely overlooked and would probably still have a diagnosis of bipolar and who knows what else. It's a tricky diagnosis and I don't think anyone knows the causes yet, but no stone should be left unturned.


I would have thought this would be easy to do in a much larger study. There are so many Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) studies now.. surely some of them have blood samples sitting around. If not, these studies have thousands of kids' names and addresses and surely most of us would gladly take our kids for blood samples.

Sara PA

New Member
From the April, 2003 Consumer Reports
Mercury in vaccines. Even minuscule doses of mercury can impair the cognitive development of babies and young children. Just this year, the FDA warned pregnant and nursing women and very young children to avoid certain mercury-containing fish. Yet until last year, the same agency permitted the use of childhood vaccines containing mercury in quantities that many, including Consumers Union, consider unsafe.

Mercury is a major constituent of thimerosal, a preservative that for the past 70 years has been added to multidose vials of vaccines to inhibit bacterial growth. There has never been a scientific study of the safety of using this product in children's vaccines. Nevertheless, its use continued until 1999, when the FDA added up vaccine-related thimerosal exposure for the first time, as part of an agencywide study of mercury-containing products.

At the time, three vaccines routinely given to newborns and infants, hepatitis B, Hib, and DTP, contained thimerosal. An average-sized baby given vaccines containing the maximum concentration of thimerosal was being exposed to 187 micrograms of mercury, more than twice what the Environmental Protection Agency deems safe for very young children. (Exposure didn't exceed the much looser FDA guideline, which Consumers Union believes is too high.)

Nevertheless, the FDA and CDC allowed immunizations with thimerosal-containing vaccines to continue--while cooperating with manufacturers to create thimerosal-free versions as quickly as possible. Not until early in 2001, more than a year and a half after the issue first surfaced, were all childhood vaccines made without significant amounts of thimerosal.
Once again, keep in mind that they stopped producing most vaccines with Thimerosal then. They didn't stop using them until they were used up or expired.

As the article in the original post indicates, there is a genetic component to many of these conditions which involves not one gene but a cluster of genes. And there seems to be, in some cases, a need to "trigger" the development of the condition. Or the trigger can turn what might have been a mild case into a more severe case.

As for Thimerosal being the only trigger, I just read in the paper today that we release 48 tons of mercury into the atmosphere ever year in the United States. That doesn't count the rest of the world. Or the other heavy metals like lead. So while Thimerosal isn't the only possible trigger, it is the one we were injecting into children.


Former desparate mom
Sure hope all the studies come together and finally have some solid answers.
I read that the general feel is that there will be a percentage of the population that were triggered by immunizations.
A larger percentage will be genetic with a cluster of markers.

I often wonder if the febrile seizures my son had triggered the genetic soup. Probably not but it's always in the back of my head. The common thinking was that his nervous system wasn't average so he didn't handle high temps the way a neurotypical baby did. Makes sense. He really got all the atypical behaviors and disorders in both families. :frown:

As always Waldorf Mom, thank you for keeping us plugged in to some of the interesting info out there.

Stella Johnson

Active Member
Very interesting. Thanks for posting the link.

If only they could come up with blood tests for all our kids disorders...


Active Member
Interesting and one which I will definitely do some digging about independently.

A couple of things concern me - the high correlation rate (apparently 100% autistics tested showed low glutathione levels; ALL controls showed normal levels).

If there is a genetic tendency to have low glutathione, you still need the other environmental factor(s) to produce the autism (perhaps due to reduced ability to metabolise heavy metals; perhaps another cause - mercury is not necessarily the villain). This SHOULD mean a LESS than 100% correlation.

There is also the issue of missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis. In a large enough (and truly random) sample size (which is needed for quality impartial research) there should be a few people labelled with autism who may have another disorder entirely. And vice versa - difficult child 1 was mislabelled for ten years, a not uncommon situation, so some controls SHOULD have low glutathione, if the researchers' theory is correct.

For scientific research to be considered valid it must be independently replicated. It certainly looks like this study is worth repeating in some other research team in some other part of the world. What we need to see in their research - a much larger sample size; a clear definition of what is autism and what is control; a check to make sure that subjects and controls are age-matched; a check to ensure that the trial is double-blinded (the people analysing the blood should not know the diagnosis of the blood donor; those writing up the initial result reports should not know either).

Even scientists can make the mistake of falling in love with their own theories, particularly if they're desperate to help people. Diagnostic tests are much harder to develop than we'd like. Remember the canals on Mars? Once scientist (Lowell) reported seeing them and after that everyone saw them. Some people even drew maps. Then a later scientist finally had the courage to say, "I'm sorry, but I can't see what you're talking about." Then nobody could see canals.

The human mind is fallible and subjective. Science tries to be infallible and objective. It's not easy to get it right.

However, I'm definitely curious and grateful for the link - this is worth further investigation.

Waldorf Mom

New Member
Here's another great article I found about the importance of glutathione:

If you keep reading the article, at the bottom of part 5:

"After identifying a common vulnerability in autistic children, Dr. James and her research partners administered micronutrients to a subset of study participants in an attempt to remedy imbalanced metabolic profiles. Children received daily supplements of glutathione precursors folinic acid (5-formyl THF) and betaine for three months, followed by methyl B12 (methyl cobalamin) for an additional month. At the end of the intervention, glutathione measurements had improved in all children (James 2004a). The physician administering the dietary intervention noted improved speech and cognition but the study was not designed to quantify the benefits. Follow-up studies are underway to include more children and document improvements in their health outcomes."

My son doesn't have autism, but he did have several toxin poisoning - including mercury... and even a pesticide that was banned in the US over 20 years ago (which I forget the name of now). I had mercury poisoning too, but much lower than my son's.

Being Rh-, I had the rhogam shot & my son had many of those early immunization with thimerosal. That could explain the potential mercury poisoning (plus I have fillings).

But the pesticide was harder to figure out. First I was asked if we lived on a golf course (studies found higher toxicity in those who had lived on golf courses when the pesticide was legal), but I didn't. My practitioner said the US continues to export toxins that were banned in the US... but we export it to countries who use it as pesticides on foods we then import back into this country and buy in our local grocery stores. (Yeah, that makes sense. Darn lobbyists!)

I was told to buy organic if possible (I usually do if it's available). If not organic, definitely avoid foods from South America - and especially from Mexico. Even if a food is washed well, the toxins are in the earth and can find its way into fruits/vegetables. My son eats more fruits/veggies than I do, maybe that was his exposure?

Knowing that I have a child who is sensitive to heavy metals, I'm curious to find out if there is something I can give to supplement his diet to help with the detox. There are various glutathione-type supplements, but don't seem as simple as say taking a Vitamin C tablet. I've gotta look into this some more.

Fascinating information, isn't it?

-Waldorf Mom


Roll With It
Mercury poisoning can be a lot more insidious than vaccines and pesticides. All of our parents used to use mercury thermometers. And we had them outside or on the windowsill. And most of us had them or still have them if we haven't gone digital.

Mercury thermometers break. The glass can be cleaned up, but the mercury is very difficult to clean up properly and extremely easy to overlook.