Did acetaminophen (Tylenol) Provoke the Autism Epidemic?


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Did acetaminophen (Tylenol) Provoke the Autism Epidemic?

Hanno Kirk, PhD, LICSW
Autism is reaching epidemic levels in the United States. Many theories have been proposed, most of them linked to early childhood vaccinations. For a while thimerosal, the mercury based preservative used in vaccines was suspected of causing autism. There seemed to be a direct connection between vaccination and regression in the rate of development in some children, who were subsequently diagnosed as having autism. Many parents, not wishing to put their infants and at risk, have refused to have them vaccinated.
Now comes the news that the culprit is not the vaccines, or maybe not even the mercury based preservative. Instead convincing evidence from multiple studies now points to the action of acetaminophen as a principal causative factor. Since 1980, Tylenol has routinely been given by American pediatricians with vaccinations to prevent fever and pain. That was the year a study was published linking aspirin to Reyes syndrome. A study from California shows how the autism rate rose sharply as Tylenol was substituted for children’s aspirin.
Enter William Shaw PhD, Director of the Great Plains Laboratories, who had been wrestling with the problem of the causes of autism for many years. His break through Aha! moment came when he looked at the autism rates in Cuba. In 2006 that island nation with a population of 11 million had only 185 cases of autism for a rate of 0.00168 percent. By comparison the Center for Disease Control on March 30 published data that shows the prevalence of autism in American children up to age 8 to be 1 in 88 for a rate of 1.13 percent. This was a 23 percent increase over the previous survey in 2006.
The Cuban vaccination rate is 99 percent, and by age six each child has received 34 shots. By comparison vaccination rates in the US for most shots are in the 85 percent range. The major difference is that in Cuba acetaminophen is available only by prescription, and is never given with vaccinations. Indeed the attitude of the Cuban medical establishment is that fever is a normal and beneficial side effect of vaccinations. It is seen as proof that the body’s immune system is responding appropriately to the challenge of the vaccination. Their rule is not to give medication unless the fever is above 104 F, or lasts longer than two days.
The stark differences in rates of autism between the two nations led Shaw to conclude that it was not the vaccinations, but rather the acetaminophen that was the culprit for the sharp rise in autism in the US and other developing nations which routinely use products like Tylenol for children.

So, how does acetaminophen cause autism? When Dr. Shaw searched the literature he came upon lots of evidence that when acetaminophen breaks down in the body it produces several toxic metabolites. One important player in this drama is an enzyme known as Cytochrome p450 2e1. This enzyme breaks down the acetaminophen into a highly toxic metabolite NAPQI. This metabolite attacks glutathione, which is the mainstay of the body’s immune system. So, after a vaccination, when the body most needs to mobilize the immune system to build antibodies, glutathione, the principal protein supporting it, is being destroyed by the NAPQI. This is why so many of the children in the autism spectrum have a wide variety of highly sensitive or weakened immune systems (allergies, intestinal problems). Part of the problem is that the concentration of acetaminophen in infant Tylenol liquid is high enough to produce toxic reactions, including possible liver damage with repeated doses over several days.
One other key piece of evidence came from cases were Tylenol was given starting five days before the vaccination, usually in the mistaken belief that it would actually strengthen the immune system. In some of these children, autistic regression started before the vaccination was given, thus eliminating the vaccine or the thimerosal as the suspect, at least in those cases.
One of the main uses of Tylenol is for reducing pain. It does so by engaging the cannabanoid receptors in the brain (the same ones that produce a feeling of well being after marijuana use).

This is what produces the analgesic effect, which is produced by the breakdown of acetaminophen through sulfation. Some children with a sulfation deficit metabolize acetaminophen differently than normal children. Because sulfation helps to eliminate the acetaminophen from the body, an impaired sulfation process means that even “safe” doses of Tylenol can be retained in the body to produce an overdose effect. Studies have shown that this not only affects the immune system, but impairs brain development. In children who are diagnosed within the autism spectrum this interference with development appears to be concentrated in several regions of the brain. One key area contains the neural networks which process social and emotional information, as well as specific locations which control emotions and aggressive impulses. In some cases the development or modulation of speech is diminished.
Unfortunately much of this information is not widely known yet. Tylenol is still one of the most widely used analgesics, and anti-pyretics. One physician told the author “All too often doctors and nurses treat Tylenol as if it were a vitamin when in fact it can be highly toxic, especially for infants whose immune system is not yet fully developed”.

[Hanno Kirk, PhD, LICSW, is in private practice in Lewisburg, WV. He uses various holistic treatment techniques for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Intrigued by the wide range of symptoms in ASD children, he has been following research on causes and treatment for several years. This article is a summary of the latest findings.]

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