FDA Issues Warning About Bogus Autism ‘Therapies’


There is an old saying that where there is hope, there is a cure.

Unfortunately, that is not always immediately true. And many businesses, as bottom of the barrel as it sounds, thrive on providing false hope for a cure for people who are sick. For decades, insane claims have been made by people who call themselves doctors who say they can cure AIDS. Now, the same sorts of claims are being made about autism.

Many of these so-called miracle products are dangerous.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about these bogus autism “therapies” in a special consumer alert. They include:

  • Chelation therapy is often administered through an IV. Wieder Television/YouTube

    Chelation therapies. According to the FDA, “These products claim to cleanse the body of toxic chemicals and heavy metals by binding to them and ‘removing’ them from circulation. They come in several forms, including sprays, suppositories, capsules, liquid drops and clay baths. FDA-approved chelating agents are approved for specific uses that do not include the treatment or cure of autism, such as the treatment of lead poisoning and iron overload, and are available by prescription only.”

  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. “This involves breathing oxygen in a pressurized chamber and has been cleared by the FDA only for certain medical uses, such as treating decompression sickness suffered by divers,” the FDA reports.
  • Detoxifying clay baths. Says the FDA: “Added to bath water, these products claim to draw out chemical toxins, pollutants and heavy metals from the body. They are improperly advertised as offering ‘dramatic improvement’ for autism symptoms.”

“Autism varies widely in severity and symptoms,” explained Dr. Amy Taylor, a pediatrician at the FDA, in a news release. “Existing autism therapies and interventions are designed to address specific symptoms and can bring about improvement.”

A Better Understanding of Autism Is Developing

Autism has been a misunderstood illness for several decades. We now know there are many different types of autism that fall along a “spectrum” of disorders. There is no “cure all” treatment for autism.

Credit: Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

“Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors,” explains the site AutismSpeaks.org. “However, symptoms and their severity vary widely across these three core areas.”

While some people with autism may be very high functioning, “For others, symptoms may be more severe, as when repetitive behaviors and lack of spoken language interfere with everyday life.”

Autism Speaks is conducting the world’s largest autism genome sequencing project and recently found 18 more gene variations that appear to be associated with autism. The report was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

“It’s noteworthy that we’re still finding new autism genes, let alone 18 of them, after a decade of intense focus,” says study co-author Mathew Pletcher, Autism Speaks’ Vice President for Genomic Discovery. “With each new gene discovery, we’re able to explain more cases of autism, each with its own set of behavioral effects and many with associated medical concerns.”

Related: 5 Myths About Autism You Should Know

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”