What is the Thimerosal Theory of Autism?

The thimerosal theory of autism is a confusing theory to understand. Generally, it says that thimerosal causes autism; however, there are wide variations within the theory about how widespread its effects are. Some say thimerosal causes all cases of autism; some say it only causes autism in susceptible populations; and others are all over the board in between. Also, there are wide variations in the theory of how thimerosal causes autism: some says it results in oxygen starvation (which is where hyperbaric treatments come from), or that it interrupts metabolic pathways, or that it damages the mitochondria of cells, or acts in other ways not yet determined. What everyone, within those who implicate thimerosal in autism, seem to agree upon is that it is the mercury in the thimerosal that is causing the harm.

The thimerosal theory of autism has become big business. There are numerous organizations that are devoted to the thimerosal theory including SafeMinds, the Autism Research Institute, and Generation Rescue. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of practitioners who are experts at separating parents from their cash in treating thimerosal induced autism, with treatments from chelation to homeopathy. There are celebrities (i.e. Jenny McCarthy), journalists (i.e. Dan Olmstead), researchers (i.e. Bernard Rimland), and parent activists (i.e. Lyn Redwood and Sallie Bernard) who have become famous or infamous for their unwavering belief that thimerosal causes autism. And, there are legions of parents who are convinced beyond any doubt that thimerosal caused their children’s autism, and will do anything to reverse this, or ‘recover’ their child in industry parlance. This is a well-financed, entrenched industry backed by many individuals and organizations intensely invested in the thimerosal theory. It is not going to give up its self-sustaining theory easily.


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