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MUHC study reveals no difference between mercury levels in autistic children and general population

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Published: 3 May 2007

Researchers at the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH) of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) have revealed new evidence dispelling the supposed link between mercury and autism.

Researchers at the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH) of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) have revealed new evidence dispelling the supposed link between mercury and autism. The research team, led by Dr. Eric Fombonne, tested mercury levels in the hair and blood samples from autistic children and their mothers and found that the levels did not differ statistically from those samples taken from non-autistic children. They also demonstrated that there was no correlation between the mercury level and the severity of symptoms and level of functioning of autistic children. The results were announced today at the 6th International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), held at the University of Washington State.

“In recent years, hypotheses have been raised concerning a possible relationship between mercury exposure and autism,” says Dr. Eric Fombonne, principal researcher, Director of Pediatric Psychiatry at the MCH, and Head of the Division of Child Psychiatry at McGill. “Specifically, the concerns have been related to childhood thimerosal-containing vaccines, dental amalgams, and methylmercury in food.

“Our findings do not support the hypothesis that autism is a form of mercury poisoning. The mercury levels we discovered in autistic children and their mothers were within the normal range for the general population.”

Consecutive referrals of young children to the Autism Spectrum Disorders clinic at the MCH were invited to participate in the study. In total, 71 children were included in the study alongside 76 pediatric controls recruited from clinics at the same hospital. Children with autism spectrum disorders all met rigorous diagnostic criteria and were assessed with state-of-the-art standardized measures. Blood and hair samples were taken from all participating children and their mothers, and analyzed using the most advanced techniques available.

“An important practical implication of this study is that chelation therapies, whereby heavy metals are removed from the body using specific compounds, are not useful in the treatment of autism,” says Dr. Fombonne. “Chelation has never been proved efficacious as a biomedical intervention to treat autism.”

The Montreal Children’s Hospital is the pediatric teaching hospital of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). The institution is a leader in the care and treatment of sick infants, children, and adolescents from across Quebec. The Montreal Children’s Hospital provides a high level and broad scope of health care services, and provides ultra specialized care in many fields including: cardiology and cardiac surgery; neurology and neurosurgery, traumatology; genetic research; psychiatry and child development and musculoskeletal conditions, including orthopedics and rheumatology. Fully bilingual and multicultural, the institution respectfully serves an increasingly diverse community in more than 50 languages. www.thechildren.com

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and health-care hospital research centre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC, a university health centre affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. The institute supports over 500 researchers, nearly 1,000 graduate and post-doctoral students, and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge. For further details visit: www.muhc.ca/research.

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