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Autistic Children Have Higher Levels of Toxic Metals in Their Blood and Urine

Update Date: Mar 11, 2013 10:00 AM EDT

Scientists found that autistic children tend to have higher levels of toxic metals in their blood and urine compared to normally developing children.

The findings, published in the journal Biological Trace Element Research, found that children with autism had significantly higher levels of lead in their red blood cells and significantly higher levels of lead, thallium, tin and tungsten in their urine.

Autism is a developmental disorder in the first three years of life.  The disorder affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of 54 boys and one in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the U.S.

Researchers at Arizona State University compared 55 children with autism ages 5 and 16 years to 44 matched controls of similar age and gender. The study compared measurements of toxic metals in whole blood, red blood cells and urine.

The findings indicate that children in the autism group had 41 percent higher levels of lead in their red blood cells compared to children in the control group. In urine, autistic children had 74 percent higher levels of lead, 77 percent higher levels of thallium, 115 percent higher levels of tin and 44 percent higher levels of tungsten.

However, researchers found that children in the autism group had slightly, but significantly, lower levels of cadmium in their whole blood.

Researchers said that lead, thallium, tin and tungsten are toxic metals that can disrupt the development and function of the brain.  What's more, these toxic metals can also damage the normal functioning of other body organs and systems.

Researchers also conducted a statistical analysis to see whether levels of toxic metals were linked to autism severity by looking at three different degrees of autism severity.

They found that 38 percent to 47 percent of the variation of autism severity was associated with the level of several toxic metals with cadmium and mercury being most strongly linked to the severity of the developmental disorder.

"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," researcher Professor James Adams and his team wrote in the report, according to

Adams and his team previously found that the use of DMSA, a drug approved by the FDA for removing toxic metals, was generally safe and effective at removing some toxic metals in the body and improved some symptoms of autism. They found that the greatest improvement was seen in children with the highest levels of toxic metals in their urine. Researchers said that children with the highest amounts of toxic metals in their urine exhibited significant improvements in metal levels after DMSA therapy.

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