Int J Toxicol. 2003 Jul-Aug;22(4):277-85.
Reduced levels of mercury in first baby haircuts of autistic children.
SafeMinds, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Reported rates of autism have increased sharply in the United States and the United Kingdom. One possible factor underlying these increases is increased exposure to mercury through thimerosal-containing vaccines, but vaccine exposures need to be evaluated in the context of cumulative exposures during gestation and early infancy. Differential rates of postnatal mercury elimination may explain why similar gestational and infant exposures produce variable neurological effects. First baby haircut samples were obtained from 94 children diagnosed with autism using Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM IV) criteria and 45 age- and gender-matched controls. Information on diet, dental amalgam fillings, vaccine history, Rho D immunoglobulin administration, and autism symptom severity was collected through a maternal survey questionnaire and clinical observation. Hair mercury levels in the autistic group were 0.47 ppm versus 3.63 ppm in controls, a significant difference. The mothers in the autistic group had significantly higher levels of mercury exposure through Rho D immunoglobulin injections and amalgam fillings than control mothers. Within the autistic group, hair mercury levels varied significantly across mildly, moderately, and severely autistic children, with mean group levels of 0.79, 0.46, and 0.21 ppm, respectively. Hair mercury levels among controls were significantly correlated with the number of the mothers' amalgam fillings and their fish consumption as well as exposure to mercury through childhood vaccines, correlations that were absent in the autistic group. Hair excretion patterns among autistic infants were significantly reduced relative to control. These data cast doubt on the efficacy of traditional hair analysis as a measure of total mercury exposure in a subset of the population. In light of the biological plausibility of mercury's role in neurodevelopmental disorders, the present study provides further insight into one possible mechanism by which early mercury exposures could increase the risk of autism.