Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

RNA therapy for autism?

Fellow ScienceBlogger Alex Palazzo has discovered autism quackery.

I’m hurt.

I’m hurt because apparently Alex doesn’t read my blog. (Just kidding; I don’t read every ScienceBlog, either, although I do read many of them and peruse the Last 24 Hours Feed regularly for topics of interest.) If he did, he’d know that simply giving useless RNA from yeast in supplements (it’s useless because, as Alex points out in detail, RNA is highly unstable and broken down quickly in the stomach to its component ribonucleic acids) is actually one of the more benign forms of autism quackery. At least it probably won’t do any harm (other than, of course, the harm that it does to the wallets of the parents of autistic children who happen to fall for this bit of quackery), assuming that yeast RNA is all that’s in the supplements.

Alex does a lovely job of debunking this bit of quackery, but I thought I’d list a few more forms of autism quackery that Alex might want to be made aware of. There’s chelation “therapy,” of course, something that Alex briefly touches upon and a therapy that occasionally kills. Then there’s chemical castration with GnRH antagonists like Lupron, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, “transdermal” chelation therapy, not to mention the antivaccination hysteria in which the mercury militia claims that thimerosal in vaccines caused autism (or, in the UK, that the MMR vaccine itself caused autism), stoking a fear of vaccines that has clearly led to the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases in the UK and arguably done so in parts of the U.S.

And that’s just autism quackery.

Just a few examples from cancer include coffee enemas for “detoxification,” the Hoxsey therapy, high dose intravenous vitamin C, blood pH treatments, “iron” rules that claim that cancer is the “healing” crisis of a psychological trauma or conflict, liver flushes, and devices that “zap” parasites that (according to one quack) are the cause of all cancer.

Alex expresses amazement that anyone can believe such ridiculous things and that quacks can get away with things as scientifically ridiculous ingesting RNA as a therapy for anything. His outraged cry reminds me of my reaction when I first waded onto the Usenet newsgroup and started discovering this stuff for the first time. Heck, Alex’s reaction almost makes me long for the days before I knew about any of this stuff, before I knew just how willing quacks are to prey upon patients’ lack of scientific knowledge . His anger and outrage echo my own when I first discovered how patients are taken advantage.

You know, back when I was a lot more innocent and blissfully unaware of such harmful woo.

In any case, Alex, now that you’re aware of just one bit of autism quackery, let me just join Abel in welcoming you to the fight. I’ll just give you one warning: Just when you think you’ve found a bit of quackery that is so obviously without the slightest bit of scientific merit, so clearly utterly ridiculous, so obviously impossible, you’ll find something worse.

After all, after nearly 200 years, people still believe that you can dilute a substance to the point where there is none of its molecules left and get an active treatment for anything (homeopathy) and have started misusing quantum theory to justify their belief.

Heck, there are even a few people who believe you can activate your DNA.

I shudder to think what I’ll discover next.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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