Four that worry physiciansThe Chicago Tribune examined four treatments in depth. Medical experts said that the therapies have not been proved to help children with autism and that each also carries risks.
IVIG treatmentWhat it is: Antibodies culled from donors are infused into the patient intravenously over many hours.
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Risks: Headaches, anaphylactic shock, meningitis, tiny risk of contracting infectious disease.
Autism theory: Helps regulate the immune system.
Expert: Pediatric neurologist Dr. Andrew Zimmerman of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore called use of IVIG to treat autism "irresponsible," considering the lack of evidence, side effects and the enormous cost.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapyWhat it is: Patients are sealed in pressurized chambers, which are often enriched with extra oxygen.
FDA-approved for: Decompression sickness.
Risks: Ear pain, oxygen toxicity.
Autism theory: Reduces inflammation.
Expert: Neuropharmacologist Richard Mailman at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine: "I would not be surprised if it causes long-term damage."
ChelationWhat it is: Patients are given a drug that binds to heavy metals to be excreted in urine.
FDA-approved for: Severe lead poisoning.
Risks: Nausea, vomiting, body pains, neutropenia, death.
Autism theory: Rids body of heavy metals.
Expert: Institute of Medicine Immunization Safety Review: "No scientific evidence . . . that chelation is an effective therapy."
PhenylbutyrateWhat it is: Treatment for rare disorders.
FDA-approved for: Urea cycle disorders.
Risks: Rectal bleeding, vomiting, peptic ulcer disease, irregular heartbeat, depression.
Autism theory: Fixes detoxification pathways.
Expert: Kennedy Krieger Institute: "No research conducted into use for autism."
-- Trine Tsouderos and Patricia Callahan
SOURCES: "Food and Nutrients in Disease Management," Institute of Medicine Immunization Safety Review; "Changing the Course of Autism," U.S. Food and Drug Administration