The Coming Gold Rush
"With the news articles about the possibility of gold helping children with autism I wonder if something like this might help my grandson. I would like to know if anyone has given this to their child with autism."
Which was in response to a story by - who else! - Dan Olmsted, UPI's senior autism-mercury editor. In his story, Mr. Olmsted has tracked down one of the patients in Leo Kanner's landmark article on autism, Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact (1943).This man, identified as Donald T., is now 72 years old and experienced a significant, if not dramatic, improvement in his autistic behaviors at age 14 (or 12 - the story contradicts itself on this point) after receiving injections of gold salts as treatment for life-threatening rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Mr. Olmsted and - since the article - a growing number of parents of autistic children, postulate that the gold injections were the cause of his improvement. Puberty is another event that happened at about the same time, but was discounted.
Mr. Olmsted's understanding of how gold might help autism is - as you might expect - tied in with the autism-mercury hyposthesis. In his article, Mr. Olmsted explains it thusly, in a quote from JB and Lisa Handley of "Generation Rescue":
"It is no surprise that gold salts improved Donald T.'s 'autism.' As gold miners as far back as the Roman Empire would tell you, gold and mercury have a strong binding affinity for each other, and the gold salts likely acted as a rudimentary chelator to help Donald T. detoxify. (Mercury is used in gold mining to separate small particles of gold from sand.) "
Yes, mercury was (and still is) used to separate gold from its ore - metallic mercury. The gold dissolves (amalgamates) in the mercury. This reaction can only occur when both the gold and the mercury are in the metallic state.
The gold used to treat Donald T's RA was a salt - the gold was an ion and not able to amalgamate with metallic mercury. In addition, mercury in animal tissue is also either ionized or chemically bonded with organic groups (e.g. methyl, ethyl, phenyl...) and also not able to form an amalgam.
None of this seems to have stopped the speculation that gold may be either the next "cure" for autism or, at the least, a vindication of the much-battered chelation therapy.
Clearly, the current state of our knowledge of the chemistry of gold and mercury does not support the "chelation hypothesis". And the prospect of gold becoming the next "cure" for autism is very ominous.
I could go on and on about the potential toxicity of gold treatment, but I think that a 2001 study in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases said it the best:
"GST [gold sodium thiomalate] is more toxic than MTX [methotrexate] but it remains an effective alternative in patients in whom MTX may not be tolerated..."
Gold sodium thiomalate is injected gold and methotrexate is a cancer chemotherapeutic agent that is often used in more severe autoimmune diseases (of which RA is one).
In the right hands, with proper monitoring and for a disorder in which it is known to work, gold therapy is a useful - if not first line - treatment. However, our only indication that gold might help autism is a single case from the 1940's.
This rather slim reed of evidence is made even slimmer by the fact that gold therapy has continued in used to the present time. Gold therapy is used in severe cases of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) often enough that at least a few autistic children with JRA must have been treated with gold.
Yet the first we hear of this startling new therapy option is from a case that occurred nearly sixty years ago.
Before embarking on this 21st Century Gold Rush, I hope that someone will bother to look and see if any autistic children receiving gold for JRA or other autoimmune disorders have reported the same sort of improvement.
Lives may be in the balance.
Injectible and oral gold are much more toxic - and have the potential for much longer-lasting toxicity - than almost any of the other therapies currently advocated for autism.
Let's look before we leap.