The Curious Case of Autism and MMS

I'm going to say something radical, something that may shock you. Are you ready? Here goes: It's not a good idea to make children drink bleach. If you're not familiar with the autism community, you may wonder why this statement would ever be considered controversial.
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I'm going to say something radical, something that may shock you. Brace yourself. Are you ready? Here goes:

It's not a good idea to make children drink bleach.

If you're not familiar with the autism community, you may wonder why my statement would ever be considered controversial. Unfortunately, in the autism community, where there are disagreements about everything, even this seemingly straightforward statement causes arguments.

The controversy, such as it is, began during the Autism One conference, held in Chicago from May 23-27. The conference is a one-stop shop for parents looking for alternative treatments for autism, and it featured some of the most prominent supporters of the idea that vaccines cause autism, including discredited scientist Andrew Wakefield and celebrity autism mom Jenny McCarthy.

But the Autism One presentation that may have gotten the most attention this year was this one, about a treatment called MMS. In it, Kerri Rivera, the founder of a "Biomed-based Autism Clinic in Latin America," explained "how MMS (chlorine dioxide) has become the "missing piece" to the autism puzzle" and how she has used it to recover 38 children in 20 months.

MMS, it turns out, stands for Miracle Mineral Solution. Go to the MMS website, and you'll find that, "The answer to AIDS, hepatitis A, B and C, malaria, herpes, TB, most cancer and many more of mankind's worst diseases has been found." These kinds of expansive, evidence-free claims are a sure sign of quackery, and identifying MMS as snake oil is no harder than realizing that $23 million is not waiting for you in a Nigerian bank account.

Unlike some kinds of pseudoscience, though, MMS has the potential to be quite harmful. Check out the slides for Rivera's presentation, and you'll find that MMS is a combination of sodium chlorite and citric acid which, when mixed together, releases chlorine dioxide. MMS, in other words, is bleach. Rivera recommends giving it orally up to eight times a day. There's also a protocol for enemas, applied two to three times per week, and baths, which can be taken every other day.

Rivera's own slides admit that MMS can cause fevers, but she calls this a "good thing" and recommends giving an enema every day during the course of a fever. She also talks about what to do if the child suffers a Herxheimer reaction, which can cause fever, chills, hypotension, headache, hyperventilation, elevated heart rate, and muscle pain.

If you don't find all of that appalling enough, you can read this testimonial from the parent of a non-verbal autistic boy who is using MMS. The MMS is causing vomiting and diarrhea, but the parent is frustrated because the non-verbal boy can't give any feedback about how he's feeling. Well, how do you think he's feeling?

Let's state the obvious: There is no reason to give bleach to any child, for any reason. There is not a shred of scientific evidence that MMS is an effective treatment for autism. Some purveyors of quackery have spotted a lucrative market and are trying to take advantage of it. But their protocol is far closer to child abuse than it is to effective medical treatment.

Sadly, Autism One and those who attend it have had a very hard time recognizing these simple facts. In a post at Age of Autism, Julie Obradovic tries to defend MMS without actually defending it. Instead, she mentions that Autism One presenters included M.D.s, Ph.D.s, and a Nobel Laureate. But the presence of smart people at a conference that promotes quackery doesn't change the fact that it's promoting quackery.

Second, Obradovic argues that Autism One "is loaded with good people, good parents, and great doctors who are willing to suffer personal attacks in order to make progress in the medical treatment of our very sick kids." Whether or not this characterization is accurate doesn't really matter. Again, the motivations of the people at Autism One are irrelevant to the subject of MMS. MMS is the worst kind of quackery, and Autism One gave it a forum.

What's happened is that MMS has gotten caught up in the same arguments that always divide the autism community. Many bloggers have for years attacked Autism One specifically and alternative treatments generally (and in my view rightly so -- there are many dubious treatments besides MMS promoted at the conference). Many people who use those treatments have attacked right back. And so it is, reflexively, with MMS.

But I want to put those arguments aside for the moment. Forget all the divisions in the autism community and just think about MMS. If you heard about this treatment and didn't know what it was for, what would your reaction be?

To be fair, a few commenters on the Age of Autism post have done this thought experiment and have called out MMS for what it is. But there ought to be more than a few.

The issue here is not about what causes autism, how to treat autism, or whether autism can be cured. The issue is not about autism at all. The issue is simply whether you believe it's OK to force bleach down children's throats or up their colons.

There are many things to argue about in the autism community. MMS isn't one of them.

If you're against MMS, you can sign this petition at, which asks the FDA, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Health and Human Services to issue cease and desist orders on the selling of MMS.

For more by Todd Drezner, click here.

For more on autism, click here.

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