The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a fresh warning to consumers about bogus cures and treatments for autism, some of which are ‘potentially dangerous’.
In a new article on its Consumer Updates page it reminds Americans there is no cure for autism and says that products or treatments claiming otherwise do not work as claimed. It adds that the same is true of many products claiming to ‘treat’ autism or autism-related symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 68 US children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASDs are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, and are about 4.5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189).
The FDA says it has approved a number of drugs that can help some people manage ASD-related symptoms, including antipsychotics such as risperidone (for patients ages 5 to 16) and aripripazole (for patients ages 6 to 17) to treat irritability.
However it urges consumers to check with a health care professional before using any behavioural intervention or drug therapy that claims to be a treatment or cure for ASD.
The Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT), a not-for-profit organisation of parents and professionals committed to improving the education, treatment, and care of people with autism, says that since autism was first identified, there has been a long history of failed treatments and fads.
The FDA has previously warned and/or taken action against a number of companies that have made improper claims about their products’ intended use as a treatment or cure for autism or autism-related symptoms.
Some of these so-called therapies carry significant health risks and include:
Chelation Therapies — 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 a number of 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. FDA-approved prescription chelation therapy products should only be used under professional supervision. Chelating important minerals needed by the body can lead to serious and life-threatening outcomes.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy — This involves breathing oxygen in a pressurised chamber and has been cleared by FDA only for certain medical uses, such as treating decompression sickness suffered by divers.
Detoxifying Clay Baths — 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.
Various products, including raw camel milk and essential oils — These products have been marketed as a treatment for autism or autism-related symptoms, but have not been proven safe and effective for these advertised uses.
The article offers some quick tips to help consumers identify false or misleading claims. They include:
- Be suspicious of products that claim to treat a wide range of diseases.
- Personal testimonials are no substitute for scientific evidence.
- Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, so be suspicious of any therapy claimed as a ‘quick fix’.
- So-called ‘miracle cures’, which claim scientific breakthroughs or contain secret ingredients, may be a hoax.