Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine and a Man-Made Epidemic

This is a beautifully written piece on the destruction ethyl mercury in vaccines, more toxic than elemental mercury,  have wrought on the children of America–and now many adults. Kathryne Pirtle, a professional musician, food rights activist and a Weston A. Price co-chapter leader from Chicagoland has composed this masterpiece for posting here at the Journal. (more on Kathryne at the end.)– Mr. Augie

The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine and a Man-Made Epidemic

Dan Olmstead and Mark Blaxell
(Pub.2010, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press)

Reviewed by Kathryne Pirtle

“A devastating account that shows how medical and manufacturing interests have mounted an assault on human health for decades and covered their tracks along the way: Autistic children are the canaries in the coal mine.” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Kathryne Pirtle Authored this Book Review

The Age of Autism is perhaps the most important new book written about the roots of a catastrophic health pandemic affecting our children. While science has sought to find the “germ” or the “genetic link” to illnesses, Olmstead and Blaxill advise that this approach is antiquated and inaccurate when considering autism and possibly many more illnesses. They detail the beginnings of autism as a consequence of environmental toxins. “Perhaps because of the less determinate nature of environmental toxins, when comparing germs and toxins, there is more than just a difference in the accepted standard of causation. Whenever germs are discovered to be an essential part of the disease process, we typically attribute causation solely to the germ. We generally accept that that the measles virus “causes” SSPE and the poliovirus “causes” paralysis even though we don’t know why the condition turns pathogenic in some cases and not others. By contrast, in the case of conditions where environmental exposure is identified as a cause of a disease, instead of linking the exposure with the disease, the most frequent response is to remove the disease label from the case.” Autism is screaming to be understood. We cannot fathom the repercussions of increasing percentages of autism in our children…What will happen to these children? We have no time to waste in finding real solutions.

The principles of a nutrient-dense diet and improving gut health are becoming a powerful partner in helping families find an effective treatment approach for autism. As I was reading this book I reflected on a recent conversation with a mother of a child with autism.  She described that she and her husband had spent $150,000 on therapies for their son and it wasn’t until they focused on a diet of nutrient-dense foods that he began to recover. With gut health improved, her child could detoxify the poisons that were affecting his brain function and build health.

Although Weston A. Price’s work demonstrated immunity from disease through a nutrient-dense diet, he studied cultures of people that were isolated from the onslaught of environmental toxins that are mounting today. In order to accurately understand the cure and prevention, we need to look at all the factors that play a role in this disorder.

Demonstrating that the “cure is often worse than the disease,” Olmstead and Blaxell carefully begin the book outlining the extensive alarming history of the uses of mercury in medicine. The Egyptians, Romans, Arabs and Chinese used it for a wide range of conditions. “Mercury is the Great Pretender, mimicking many diseases and their symptoms: the tremors of Parkinson’s, the hallucinations of schizophrenia, the paralysis and contractures of stroke, the gastrointestinal pain of ulcers and cancer.” Nonetheless, the same dose of mercury does not affect everyone equally. That mercury in medicine did something was often proof of its efficacy, and despite problems, “successive generations of doctors saw themselves as “improving” on their predecessors’ crude use of mercury, refining the dose, the compound, and the usage in ways that made mercury, in their hands at least, more helpful than harmful.”

Throughout Europe in the 1800s doctors, nurses and patients were exposed to increasing mercury toxicity through the medical use of mercury-based creams, and mercuric chloride as an injection and an antiseptic. During the epidemic of syphilis at this time, a mercury-based cream became the standard treatment of syphilis bacteria. Coinciding with its use, a notable percentage of those with syphilis developed a condition called general paralysis of the insane, or GPI. This disease could provoke outbursts, memory lapses, paralysis, weakness and tremors and was considered one of the most debilitating diseases ever described. But was GPI an outcome of syphilis? In a study of a population of people who had syphilis but did not receive the common treatment, there had never been a case of GPI amongst them. With the dawn of penicillin, the use of mercurial cream for syphilis ended along with the adjunct condition.

In France during the 1880s, Jean-Martin Charcot, regarded as the father of neurology, studied a group of patients whose symptoms mimicked GPI but who did not have syphilis. This disease was coined “hysteria”, which became a catchall for conditions that no one could ascertain. Hysteria could also encompass mood disorders, hallucinations and even eccentric behavior. In these studies, evidence of occupational mercury exposure was often missed.

In the 1890s, mentored by Charcot, the psychotherapist, Sigmund Freud began to see offspring, close companions and caretakers of GPI patients also for hysteria. In a quote from Sigmund Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, he surmises that, “In more than half of the cases of hysteria, obsessional neurosis, etc., which I have treated psychotherapeutically, I have been able to prove with certainty that the patient’s father suffered from syphilis before marriage…I am…of the opinion that the coincidence I have observed is neither accidental nor unimportant.” As a body of symptoms was either overlooked or misdiagnosed, and psychiatric theories blatantly took their place, Olmstead and Blaxill characterize the irony of the blindness to mercury poisoning as a component of these mysterious illnesses…a missed opportunity.

Another prevailing, sometimes fatal, disease that affected children through the late 1940s was called Acrodynia (Pink Disease) meaning “pain in the hands and feet.” It was finally determined to have origins in the many teething powders, worm treatments, bowel regulating therapies and diaper rinses that contained mercury—the popular remedy, calomel being among them. Notably, many of the manifestations of Acrodynia are found in autism. From his 1931 book, L’Acrodynie Infantile, by the French doctor, Charles Rocaz, he reported this strange disorder affecting an increasing number of children and states a common scenario in one of his patients: “The child quit talking, tried to hit his parents, and battered himself against the bed. The parents sadly remarked that he resembled a ‘raving lunatic.’” When these disease causing remedies were no longer prescribed, lo and behold, Acrodynia disappeared.

The regrettable legacy that survivors of Pink Disease carry is heard in the words of Heather Theile of Australia, who founded the Pink Disease Support Group in 1989: “In particular, I have a terrible sense of position of both my body and hands. For example, it takes me ages to line up a clothesline, the clothes and the pegs to hang out the clothes. I have to have a rope hanging down from the ceiling of my carport to be able to have a guide to park the car in the right place. I am hopeless with any locks, catches, car seat catches, etc. I drift when walking and often bump into walls and doors. I go to open a door, but miss the catch by inches. I cannot cope with verbal instructions at all and have to write ‘everything’ down. This is known as ‘thinking in pictures’ (Temple Grandin).”

Subsequently the book discusses England’s ensuing mercury pollution from the burning of coal beginning with the industrial revolution. With black smoke billowing from smoke stacks throughout the British capital, there arose an increasing population of people suffering from mental illness. The book, The Invisible Plague on Insane Persons in Psychiatric Hospitals, Workhouses and Under Care, by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. and Judy Miller, describes that in 1807 the total hospitalized mentally ill population was at 5,500 and by 1870 it had jumped to 54,713! Contrastingly, in the 1700s, there were few cases of mental illness described. The asylum population in England rose steadily as coal production increased.

A myriad of unusual illnesses affecting the brain and nervous system appeared beside mental illness including Little’s disease or cerebral palsy (1861), multiple sclerosis (1868), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gerig’s disease (1874), schizophrenia (1887) and bipolar disorder (1902). Today, although we no longer “see” the pollution from coal, it is there alongside its mercury emissions and rates of these kinds of diseases progress. “Smokestacks grew higher and pollutants like mercury were simply lofted into the upper atmosphere to come to earth with the rain…every day, the global cycle of mercury pollution simply gets worse.”

Olmstead and Blaxill continue their mercury toxicity cross-examination in autism through the first eleven documented cases of autism.  The parents of each child were found to be uniquely associated with the use of mercury in some form. There was a fungicide cluster and a medical cluster.

Originally profiled by Leo Kanner, considered the father of child psychiatry, these children were part of a study that introduced autism to the world.  Without the thought of a mercury connection, Kanner describes his findings: “Since 1938, there have come to our attention a number of children whose condition differs so markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far, that each case merits—and, I hope, will eventually receive—a detailed consideration of its fascinating peculiarities.” (Leo Kanner, Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact, April, 1943) In lieu of a hypothesis of association to environmental poisons, Kanner writes in the vein of popular Freudian theories that “The parents’ behavior toward the children must be fully appreciated. Maternal lack of genuine warmth is often conspicuous in the first visit to the clinic.” With this posture of blaming the parents’ attitudes toward their children as a genesis of their illness, the term “refrigerator mother” was propagated while autism statistics kept rising, especially in large metropolitan areas. But through their pursuant inquiry, Olmstad and Blaxill mount striking evidence of mercury exposure yielding to environmental illness that cannot be dismissed. They state that “they strengthen the argument that the Age of Autism began as another sad chapter in the long hidden history of mercury poisoning.”

It wasn’t until the 1960s, with the work of Bernard Rimland, a psychologist, researcher and autism parent and Dr. Mary Coleman, a researcher at Georgetown University, that groundwork was made in understanding that there may be environmental aspects to autism. Rimland writes that Kanner, “has been reported to have seen well over 20,000 children in his psychiatric career. It is remarkable, in retrospect that none of the [autistic] children were seen in Kanner’s first 12 years of practice, and all were born after 1930.”

Rimland and Coleman’s group, the National Society for Autistic Children, sought biological roots in chemical, gastrointestinal, metabolic and genetic disturbances. These paths lead to the current studies, many of which relate to vaccinations.

The first sign of mercury in vaccinations being a component in autism was encountered with pregnant women who had received the commercial, thimerosal-containing, gamma globulin preparations to prevent congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) in the 1960s. (Thimerosal is the mercury-containing preservative that has been used in vaccines.) Previously deafness, muteness spontaneous abortion, infant mortality, heart defects and very rarely, mental retardation were identified as the consequences of rubella in the mother.

At the start of 1964 there was a rubella epidemic, and under the guise of this remedy, came a drastic surge in children who were born with behavioral disorders with an alarming percent who were on the autism spectrum. The authors ask, “Was autism as an outcome of congenital rubella another example of a ‘disease of the remedy?’ ” While the US no longer uses gamma globulin therapies as the rubella vaccine has taken it’s place, in developing countries where CRS still occurs and gamma globulin has never been used, deafness, blindness, heart disease and occasionally mental retardation are seen—but autism is never mentioned.

The “straw that broke the camel’s back” occurred as autism rates intensified in the 1990s. There was an onslaught of alarmed parent-led scientific inquiries organized to determine the explanation. Suspiciously, where at first the CDC was a partner in this exploration, the CDC’s openness began to dwindle as implications of medical and governmental liability from environmental links surfaced. In 2004, the CDC’s lead autism epidemiologist said in a Boston presentation, “About ten years ago, we began to hear concerns from around the country that people were seeing more cases of autism.” The authors question, “What did the CDC know about the autism epidemic and when did they know it?”

More independent investigation began to surface. There was a notable acceleration of cases of children reported to have developed autism immediately after receiving the MMR vaccine. Concern developed over the unusually high rate of autism in Somali refugees. While rates in Africa are very low, the rate for immigrant population in Minnesota was 1 in 28 children! These children were required to receive 3 times the number of vaccines before entering this country. Yet in the Amish community, where vaccine rates are low, the rate is 1 in 150,000 children. Moreover, in both homeschooled children, who have low vaccination rates and in the 25-year practice of Homefirst Health Services in Chicago, among the several thousands of children who were delivered at home and never vaccinated, there is virtually no autism.

Hence there is mounting controversy around the causes of autism, so much so that the work of professionals who you would expect to question policy and launch unbiased research—leading scientists, doctors, the CDC, epidemiologists—have been kept at bay or have attacked opposition and  evidence, supported by major media who have posed this same prejudice. It has been the work of courageous parents, independent doctors, healthcare professionals, researchers, citizen scientists and reporters who have taken the lion share of continuing this investigation—often at great risk of backlash against their findings.

The troubling FDA oversight of data that demonstrates possible problems with the increased vaccine schedule is unfathomable. Why isn’t there a prudent restructuring of vaccine recommendations? What happened to the physician’s oath of Hippocrates, “Do no harm?” Yet, with all of the scrutiny over the vaccine issue, one would have to wonder why you can now get a flu vaccine at your local department or drug store and over the intercom of these stores and recorded phone messages you hear how easy it is to get your shot. How many average citizens are asking what is in these shots and what are the risks?

The book scours vaccine research that began in the 1990s. Independent results reveal that the increased childhood vaccine schedule along with vaccinations that were grouped together, like the MMR, exceed the limits of mercury exposure and are a probable factor in the escalation in autism. Although mercury has been phased out in children’s vaccines, influenza vaccines targeted to pregnant women were not included in the withdrawal and can still be a contributing component in the unborn child.

The infant brain is highly susceptible to toxic overload and there are many similarities between mercury poisoning and autism. These are some of the findings of the damaging effects of thimerosal.

  • Mercury can cause premature cell death in very small doses.
  • Thimerosal activates “cellular response pathways that lead to degradation of cell surface receptors of critical importance in normal cell division and survival.”
  • Mercury can cause oxidative stress by upsetting the cerebral glutathione antioxidant systems. Lower glutathione levels can cause the body to have a reduced ability to detoxify.
  • Reduced ability to detoxify can lead to mitochondrial damage. In studies of autistic populations, estimates of the rate of subtle mitochondrial dysfunction range from as low as 7 percent to up to 50 percent.”
  • Ethylmercury and chemical exposure can induce autoimmune disease. “Many investigators have found markers of persistently abnormal immune signaling consistent with autoimmunity to gut tissue and to sensitivity to foods like milk and wheat.” Researchers have found this may be an explanation to why most autistic children have active bowel disease. (The book, Gut and Psychology” by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, pub. by Medinform, 2004, clearly identifies poor gut health as an aspect of autism.)

The authors point to the global implications of thimerosal exposure in vaccines from the bestselling book “Evidence of Harm” by David Kirby who states, “If thimerosal is one day proven to be a contributing factor to autism, and if the US-made vaccines containing the preservative are now being supplied the world over, the scope of this potential tragedy becomes unthinkable. The United States, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, is not exactly the most beloved nation on earth. What if the profitable export of our vaunted medical technology has led to the poisoning of hundreds of thousands of children? What then?”

The autism pandemic cannot be exclusively blamed on increases in vaccinations, as our nutrient-depleted food supply and other environmental toxins certainly play a role. The work of the Weston A. Price Foundation is an exceptional partner in teaching people about nutrient-dense nutrition that heals and builds health. Synonymous with growing research that is questioning the safety of vaccinations and the vaccination schedule, concerned citizens are choosing to either selectively vaccinate or not at all. Therefore, protecting our personal rights has become a paramount issue fueled by “evidence of harm,” which has not yet been reason enough for a transformation of our national medical dictates. As we seek correction of irresponsible policies, we will continue to depend on measures of heroism, for inaction may lead to more destruction. END

Purchase Age of Autism and go to the website

Instant eBook Download from Kathryne:

Kathryne Pirtle, a professional musician and Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader near Chicago, knows acid reflux. It made her life miserable and she almost died from its effects until she learned how to eat it away with proper foods. Her eBook is called Acid Reflux: A National Epidemic and Precursor to Chronic Illness–Achieving Lasting Healing with Traditional Foods and I am please to offer it in my iShop for $27, instead of the regular $39. Please see her video at the link above.

Kathryne Pirtle’s blog is Performance Without Pain.

9 responses to “Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine and a Man-Made Epidemic

  1. Pingback: Age of Autism--A Critically Important Book | Performance without Pain

  2. Augie: Thanks so much for your website and articles. They are so informative and helpful in raising my 11 kids and helping my husband age gracefully! As a mom to 5 adopted kids who are on the austism spectrum, a nutritious diet is our number 1 plan of attack and help to them. We are refused modern vaccines created to fight ‘lifestyle’ diseases – hepatitis, HPV, etc. And, we are getting an A2 certified jersery milk cow next week! I doubt we would have come so far w/out your information and encouragement. Bless you!

    • What a beautiful thing you have said and I cannot wait to share this with Kathryne. It is very helpful to me to get this kind of feedback!

  3. What a wonderful website! I have taken my role as a new mother very seriously. We had a gentle home birth, I’m exclusively breastfeeding, and we are not going to experiment on our daughter when it comes to the mystery ingredients that are in vaccines. This lead me to wonder if there has been any data collected on the incidence of Autism in breastfeed babies vs. formula feed babies?

  4. Thanks Augie for your great articles on autism. I heard tonight on PBS that they are running a series next week on autism- on the news program. And that you can read it on their website.

    Best, Sylvia

  5. Shakti Marquis

    Great article on the history of mercury’s assault on human health through being used in medicine. You did not mention the toxic metals contained in much milk and other factory-farmed food as another possible cause for the continuing incidence of autism in the U.S., despite thimerosal having been taken out of U.S. children’s vaccines. Mercury from coal-fired power-plants. runoff, metal smelting, etc., results in mercury-contamination in the water and in the fishmeal routinely fed factory-farmed animals. Hence, the pregnant woman’s eating of fish and other animal products may be one factor in the development of at least some autism, as discussed in my December 2008 article “Toxic Soup” found in Earthsave International’s journal, and in my 2010 book, “Vegan Paradise: A New Worldview to Save Our Bodies, Minds and Souls–And Life on Earth”, available online and through my website, and see my blog at

  6. Susan Richey from Facebook said:
    I love this book. It opened my eyes to the way the medical industry works. I used to think that people just didn’t know the truth and if we got the information out to them they would change and we’d all be ok. But now I realize that corrupt…ion, greed, arrogance, neglect and pseudoscience are ENDEMIC to the whole field and they reject your truth for their own purposes. Truth and integrity in research and practice of medicine need better safeguards than we now have. Thank you for posting on this book.

  7. I read as fast as I could, I was most interesed in Pink Disease. Sixty yrs ago I had Acrodynia(1950), at 5 months old. It was my first trip to a pediatrician, before, our family doctor, had always tended me. In trying to get my more serious history, my mother, soon to be 86 years young, had a hard time recollecting the details except for being horrified and scared to death! Long story short, jumped into searches and found this, it wasn’t easy. What an eye opener of FYI! Extremely helpful and THANK YOU!

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