Neuroscientists Chris Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic may have discovered something awful—and useful. The UBC research duo compared the amount of aluminum in infant vaccination schedules in several countries with rates of autism diagnosis across several years.
They found a remarkable correlation. The study seems to show that the more aluminum that infants are exposed to through vaccines—especially those babies under six months old—the more likely they are to get autism.
Although the mercury-autism link in vaccines was “proven” and then “disproven” by scientists during the past 15 years, aluminum’s possible role in the rising rates of autism is still emerging.
“If any part of this is true, it’s very scary stuff,” Shaw told the Straight in a phone interview.
Their paper, “Does an Elevated Body Burden From Vaccine Aluminium Adjuvants Contribute to the Rising Prevalence of Autism?”, hasn’t been published yet, but they will be presenting their findings at the ninth Keele Meeting on Aluminium in February 2011.
Don’t refuse immunizations based on this single study, urges Monika Naus, the associate director of epidemiology for the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Although 93 percent of kids are vaccinated in this province, she explained, the numbers have slipped over the past decade—a situation she associates with the fear of mercury in vaccines.
“It would be a travesty if the same thing [people refusing vaccines] happened with aluminum and autism,” she told the Straight by phone, noting that complex factors such as genetics seem to contribute to autism. “This could turn into another witch-hunt.”
Naus allowed that an environmental study such as Tomljenovic and Shaw’s is usually the first step in finding a cause for a condition.
Theirs is just the latest lighthouse to flash a warning about aluminum body burden. Aluminum is the third most common element on Earth, Shaw explained, but the human body doesn’t need any of it. In fact, if it builds up in the body—and it tends to collect in the brain—it’s toxic. In a number of peer-reviewed studies, it has been linked to macrophagic myofasciitis, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease.
“In terms of Alzheimer’s, people pooh-poohed it [the aluminum link] for years, and only now is it getting some grudging acceptance,” Shaw said.
How great the aluminum body burden is depends on a few factors, Shaw noted: whether or not the blood-brain barrier is solid (it isn’t in infants), how well the kidneys are working (an issue for the elderly), how the aluminum gets into the body (vaccines are a more direct route, he said, than food), and how much of it we take in. And in B.C., we’re taking in a lot.
The regular immunization schedule for children six years of age and under in B.C. includes up to 17 vaccines, several of which contain aluminum. Tomljenovic and Shaw found that the schedule exposes children to 20 to 50 times the amount of aluminum known to be toxic to the human body.
At the new Seymour-Capilano filtration plant, hydrated potassium aluminium sulfate, or alum, is used as a coagulant to pull impurities out of the water, plant superintendent Sharon Peters told the Straight by phone. That means that since January, the tap water in much of Greater Vancouver has been clarified with an aluminum compound.
Baking powder often contains aluminum. Soda comes in aluminum cans. Some kitchen pans are made from aluminum. It’s in paint, leather, antacids, fertilizer, pesticides, and, of course, aluminum foil.
It’s also the active ingredient in antiperspirant. For example, aluminum compounds are found at levels of 16 percent in Gillette Clear Gel Arctic Ice and Soft & Dri DriGel, 19 percent in Arm & Hammer Advance Invisible Solid, and 21 percent in Secret Platinum Asian Pear.
Health Canada’s webpage on aluminum research ends with: “While there is evidence”¦for the interaction with and impact of aluminum on different components of the neurological system, available data are inadequate to serve as a basis for a hypothesized mode of action of aluminum in inducing specific neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
Getting science and government to change direction on something like this is “like turning around the Titanic”, Shaw said.
In the meantime, he’s not wearing antiperspirant.