The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an updated alert Wednesday warning consumers not to try a long list of ineffective and potentially dangerous things being peddled as autism treatments — including raw camel’s milk.
The alert from FDA regulatory officer Jason Humbert said the agency has “warned and/or taken action against a number of companies” advertising treatments like camel’s milk, chelation therapy, hyperbaric chambers, detoxifying clay baths and essential oils.
Steve Silberman, a science writer and autism advocate, said that as bizarre as some of the treatments sound, he’s heard of all of them — even the camel’s milk.
“Oh, sure, all the time,” said Silberman, the author of “Neurotribes: the Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.” “The history of autism is basically a history of quack interventions because so little has been known about autism at a biological level, and there’s been a tremendous amount of bad information out there about what causes autism, for instance, vaccines and heavy metals.”
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In chelation therapy, which Silberman called “incredibly expensive and dangerous,” synthetic material is injected into the patient’s bloodstream to attach to metals and minerals and carry them out of the body. While it has some tested medical uses, treating autism is not one of them, and side effects can include death.
Silberman said its use in people with autism stems from a mistaken belief that the condition is caused by excessive mercury.
In reality, Silberman said, the latest science suggests a genetic component to autism, and parents would be better off learning about the condition and how it affects behavior than trying to “cure” it.
But he said parents of autistic children are often desperate, and that puts them “at great risk of being exploited by quacks selling everything.”
“Parents spend tremendous amounts of money that they don’t have on products that have never been proven to work and may even be harmful to their child,” Silberman said.