Pinks Disease And Autism

27 Sep

NoMercury, the website of Dr Alan and Lujene Clark RN is a website dedicated to proving the idea that mercury causes autism. Alan Clark writes a loooooonngg open letter about it – an amassing of the evidence one assumes – in a page amusingly entitled ‘the science’.

Lots of people (including me) have debunked a lot of whats on that page and what the Clark’s believe and more will do so in the future no doubt. What I’ve been meaning to tackle for some time is their attempt to provide historical medical data to back up their claims that mercury causes autism.

In order to do this, they make use of a form of mercury poisoning called ‘Pinks disease’ which is a phenomenon rarely seen these days but which went through a few periods of high prominence, particularly in the early 20th century and again in the mid 50’s in the UK.

The Clarke’s make use of Pinks disease in order to try and explain why thiomersal only causes autism in such a very low set of kids:

Why does mercury toxicity at levels found in vaccines seem to only affect a subgroup of children, predominantly males? History provides the answer. The same target subgroup was noted in the early 20th Century during the epidemic of Pink’s Disease (Acrodynia) that was determined to be caused by mercury in teething powders given to children. About 1 in 500 children were afflicted, and some died as a result of this toxic insult.

Firstly, lets note that despite Clark’s claims above neither he nor Pinks disease reveal why autism affects mainly boys. There are no valid scientific theories that account for that fact. And lets be clear – in order for thiomersal to be taken seriously as a causative of autism, there damn well needs be. The absence of such data is (just like the evidence against the so called autism epidemic) another major unraveling of the conspiracy-theorists shroud of mystery.

Clarke then goes on to quote Dr. Thomas Clarkson, who, in his ‘The three modern faces of Mercury’ said:

It is interesting that not a single case of Acrodynia has been reported from exposure to vaccines despite the propensity of thimerosal to produce this syndrome when given in sufficient amounts.

Which is a great point. Clarke, of course, takes issue with it:

That remark is quite interesting in the face of many parental reports of just such a rash occurring in their child after a bolus of Thimerosal-laden vaccines in the 1990’s.

He then goes onto ‘prove’ his point by linking to a PDF on his own site that not only details a case study of Pinks disease but includes pictures so we can judge how Pinks disease makes kids hands and feet pink.

Intriguingly, I came across a differing version of these exact same images. There were two main differences between this report and the Clark’s – firstly, the report I found is hosted on a medical science database which tends to lend it a bit more credence. And the second difference? Well go see for yourself. Is it just me or has the level of ‘pinkness’ seemingly and magically drained away from the report on the Clarks website? Far be it from me to accuse anyone in the Clarke household of being a dab hand with Photoshop but if I was told I was going to look at something called Pinks disease I’d expect something more along the lines of whats on the Science site than whats on the Clarks site. You, Dear Reader, can make up your own mind.

Clarke then goes on to say:

Acrodynia is probably the most widely recognized form of mercury poisoning. Its symptoms have been documented as early as 1931 by Bancroft, Grant, Tanner, et al (Journal Lancet 71:56, 1931) and studied more extensively in the 1950’s by Warkany and Hubbard. In fact, a statement in some of their earlier work *is almost eerily predictive of the symptoms we are seeing today* since the iatrogenic exposure to mercury was increased significantly by the rapidly expanded immunization schedule beginning around the early 1990’s. Have their words from 1953 come back to haunt the medical community because mercury was left in vaccines?

Fascinating stuff. Except Clarke glosses over the pathology of Pinks disease. I mean, from what Clarke says about Pinks disease above you’d expect the pathology of Pinks and autism to be very similar.

The child becomes listless, no longer interested in play, restless and irritable. Generalised inconsistent rashes, which are protean, recur from time to time. Early, the tips of the fingers, toes, and nose acquire a pinkish colour and later the hands and feet become a dusky pink, with patchy areas of ischemia and cyanotic congestion. The colouring shades off at the wrists and ankles. These changes in the extremities are the most distinctive features of the syndrome and are responsible for the term pink disease. Frequently the cheeks and the tip of the nose acquire a scarlet colour.

As the disease becomes established, the sweat glands are enormously dilated and enlarged and perspiration is profuse. Secondary infection may lead to a severe pyoderma (a pus-like skin disease). There is desquamation of the soles and palms, which, though usually superficial, may be severe and recur during the course of the disease. The fingers and toes appear oedematous; the swelling is due to hyperplasia and hyperkeratosis of the skin. An outstanding symptom is constant pruritus with excruciating pain in the hands and feet. Children will rub their hands together for hours, and older children will complain of a severe burning sensation.

The nails become dark and frequently drop off. Occasionally, gangrene of the toes and fingers develop and trophic ulcers may result from the constant rubbing of the hands and feet. The hair tends to fall out and is often pulled out by the child.

There is photophobia without evidence of local inflammation of the eyes. The children shield their eyes or bury their faces in their pillows. The lax ligaments and hypotonia permit the children to assume unusual positions. In extreme cases the teeth may be lost; necrosis of the jaw bones frequently follows. Initially, the gums appear normal except for a slightly deeper red colour, later they become inflamed and swollen. Salivation then becomes pronounced, and the saliva often flows from the mouth in a constant stream. Anorexia is prominent, but because of the excessive perspiration large quantities of water are consumed. There may be diarrhoea and prolapse of the rectum is a frequent complication. The blood pressure and pulse rate may be increased significantly. Fever is usually not present unless there is some complication such as urinary tract infection or bronchopneumonia. Neurological symptoms are an important part of the syndrome and include neuritis, mental apathy, and irritability.

Early in the disease the tendon reflexes may be normal or increased, but later they disappear. There is not a true motor paralysis, but because of the soft, flabby musculature the child has no desire to walk and is hypotonic, listless and hypomotile. The severe pain prevents normal sleep. There is no time when a child with acrodynia appears happy or comfortable; the child does not play or smile, but appears dejected and melancholic, a picture of abject misery.


Does that sound anything – anything at all – like autism or autistic people you know? No, me neither. Clarke follows up with what one assumes is his knock out blow – ‘Autism – a Novel Form of mercury Poisoning’. A study that wasn’t good enough to make it into a proper science journal. One of the conclusions in that study and which Clarke points proudly to is:

Due to the extensive parallels between autism and HgP [mercury poisoning], the likelihood of a causal relationship is great.

Er, yeah. Extensive parallels. Right. It seems that the medical science of the time (and now) says that Pinks disease has a causal relationship with mercury. It also seems very obvious to me that Pinks disease shares no commonality with autism whatsoever. It also seems clear to me that Clark uses Pinks disease in a vague manner with nothing substantive to back up his assertion at all. We’re back to square one: Yes, mercury is bad – no there’s no evidence it causes autism.

69 Responses to “Pinks Disease And Autism”

  1. darthWilliam September 29, 2005 at 22:22 #

    Kev: I suppose I should state that based on the hair findings we did chelation (OMG – another fringe treatment) and yes, had stools tested and yes we found mercury there, the amounts dropped off as the chelation proceeded, as expected. Do I know if this treatment made a difference? No, I can’t do a double-blind scientifically valid study on my one and only son. And I dont have time to wait for research studies, my son is growing up NOW. FYI I also used ABA (Lovaas), speech therapy, vestibular stimulation, OT, vitamins & enzymes and prescribed drugs by his pyschiatrist. I don’t have time to sort out what isworking and what isn’t, my policy is to do everything possible that seems like it might make a difference and is low risk.

    The AMA says this: “The AMA opposes chemical analysis of the hair as a determinant of the need for medical therapy and supports informing the American public and appropriate governmental agencies of this unproven practice and its potential for health care fraud “, the same article also states :”hair analysis has limited value as a screening device for heavy metal exposure” – perhaps you should read more carefully.

    Oh, and Darth Vader is a fictional character. The point is not proving a negative (impossible), but i still fail to see why we need to explain gender bias to consider thimerisol as a factor? Are you saying that if a valid theory explaining gender bias is found we can then consider thimerisol again? Please explain.

  2. N. Kleind September 29, 2005 at 23:12 #

    The reason why there are more boys than girls diagnosed with autism might have something to do with prenatal exposure to testosterone, or might be a very complex set of occurances that favors boys. Whatever, if boys were for any reason more susceptible to mercury then that should have been shown a hundred years ago, at least decades ago. Mercury is everywhere. It’s ubiquitous. Go look up ubiquitous if you aren’t sure what that means.

    There is no evidence that atusitics have any brain damage from mercury. The labs are unreliable and possibly they are just lying. Fortunately there are investigations that will reveal this, fortunately every parent could investigate the reliability of the labs for themselves, but they don’t.

    They just pay for the questionable lab results, and procede to do whatever the doctor or an internet group recommends for them to do. [see autism mercury Yahoo! group]

    Thimerosal doesn’t cause autism. They know that everywhere but in the US. Basically, making the parents who believe it look like utter fools to everyone outside the US. In time the mercury parents will catch on, but unfortunately the mercury hysteria has already claimed one life and might claim more before it stops.

  3. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) September 30, 2005 at 00:09 #

    “I guess the authors of this study didn’t know those reasons:
    ADHD & Autism:

    Links between… maybe; the same thing… nah.

    Think again, Darth… you need to.

  4. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) September 30, 2005 at 00:28 #

    “Autism and ADHD are most likely caused by the combined effects of many genes and the effects of unknown environmental factors.”

    Well, I dealt with this problem using Lewin’s life space model back in 2001. B=f(P,E) – or behaviour is a function of the interaction between person variables (including biological and psychological ones) and environmental ones (including physical, social and chemical variables).

    “It is very unlikely that one gene on chromosome 16 will decide entirely whether someone develops either of these disorders.”


    “It is also important for other scientists to confirm these initial results. The researchers do not know for sure that the same gene is contributing to both disorders.”

    Nor can they know without a very carefully controlled study, using the B=f(P,E) paradigm.

    “However, if these results are supported by future studies, they would point to a very interesting — and as yet unexplained — link between two previously unlinked disorders.”

    Like I said… links, maybe; same as… nah. And the article there didn’t even go NEAR to claiming that they were the same (in the sense of belonging in the same dx category).

    In-quotes remarks from the linked thing in Darth’s response to me.

  5. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) September 30, 2005 at 00:31 #

    “David – You failed to see my sarcasm, that being that you use as evidence that the Clark’s are wrong because the DSM puts the 2 conditions in different categories! If you want to dispute their position, use real evidence not somebody’s arbitrary numbering scheme.”

    Umm… it was hardly arbitrary.

    And I don’t see any real evidence submitted by you that ADHD and ASCs ARE in the category! You refuse to prove a negative for Kevin and then expect me to prove one? Grow up, man!

  6. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) September 30, 2005 at 00:32 #

    It’s hit me that Darth doesn’t really understand logic.

  7. N. Kleind September 30, 2005 at 01:29 #

    The reason that ADHD/ADD has suddenly become part of the mercury parents agenda is that they need more support in the form of paranoid and enraged parents to march on Washington DC, donate money to keep their paranoid and enraged organizations and efforts alive.

    So, the *mercury parent*s are now supposed to include parents of ADHD kids along with parents of kids with autism. Time will tell how many ADHD kids will become patients of DAN! doctors and Buttar, et al. Surely those doctors are licking their chops in anticipation of all the little bodies they can chelate. It’s a big market. They are exploiting it.

    Maybe Wakefield can come up with an ADHD gastrointestinal disorder- “hyperactivity colitis” , and maybe the chicken pox vaccine will be the cause of it this time. Surely, a vaccine will be involved somehow, or maybe it will be fluoride in drinking water.

  8. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) September 30, 2005 at 01:33 #

    NK… exactly!

    Nice one….

  9. bonni September 30, 2005 at 04:06 #

    ADD/ADHD is now the same as autism which is the same as mercury poisoning and used to be the same as “mental retardation”?

    Wow, so, like everything is everything else and it’s all caused by mercury?

    Gee, I need to get out more…

  10. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) September 30, 2005 at 08:09 #

    “Gee, I need to get out more…”

    Nah, bonni, you don’t wannae do that… the mercury’ll get you and you’ll be needing institutionalised for the rest ae yer life….


    As if!

  11. Lili Marlene September 30, 2005 at 09:38 #

    Kev, I’ve had a look at that info about Pinks Disease/acrodynia/mercury poisoning, and I find it truly amazing that anyone would think that was the same thing as autism. Can anyone tell me where are the similarities? How on Earth could mercury poisoning explain the obsessiveness/special interests/long attention span so often seen in autistic/aspie people?

    I’m not a diagnosed autistic, but I’m 100% sure there are many people in our family who are aspie/autistic to some degree or another. We have obsessives and rockers in our family, and too many other autistic traits to list. I can unequivocably say that none of us are pink or magenta coloured! We are not listless or lacking in muscle tone as in Pinks disease, quite to the contrary, a number of people in our family have had almost too much muscle tone, unvaryingly, for their whole lives, with very straight backs and a rather “Rain Man” stiffness to the gait, all classic autism traits. Our kids are anything but listless and ill. They love to chase and play-fight amongst themselves. They are more mischief than a barrel-full of monkeys.

    I’d like to give you a tip, Kev. It is conceivable that some of the mercury ratbags could dredge up the odd autistic who may display one or two symptoms that might remotely resemble Pinks disease. This is because there does seem to be a link between autism/AS and proper, genuine real autoimmune diseases and allergies, which can cause some pretty odd rashes and skin discolourations. And the sad thing is that it can be really hard to get such illnesses taken seriously by doctors if you are an aspie, so some aspies have to battle for years with untreated illnesses, due to discriminatory or dismissive treatment from the medical profession. None of us would ever want to be cured of our unusual personalities or abilities, but the immune problems we don’t need! But all of this has absolutely nothing to do with mercury or vaccines!

  12. Bonnie Ventura September 30, 2005 at 13:42 #

    Lili Marlene wrote:

    “there does seem to be a link between autism/AS and proper, genuine real autoimmune diseases and allergies, which can cause some pretty odd rashes and skin discolourations.”

    I agree with you, Lili Marlene, both autism/AS and rashes/allergies run in my family, too. I don’t believe that there is any causal connection, though; I think it’s more likely to be two separate groups of genes often found in the same population, in the same way that sickle cell anemia is primarily found in people with dark skin but has no relationship to the genes that determine skin color.

    I have an unusual sensitivity to cold that sometimes causes my skin to turn red when I am outdoors in a chilly wind. Ten years ago, my father (who is obsessed with alternative health) suggested that it might have something to do with mercury, and he paid for me to have my amalgam fillings replaced with composite fillings. I also took chelation supplements for several weeks afterward. As you can probably guess, that didn’t make me any less sensitive to cold, or any less autistic either.

    But getting regular exercise in the past few years has noticeably improved the temperature range that I can tolerate, and it’s good for working off stress, too. Those parents who are chelating their kids ought to be taking them out to the park to go running instead!

  13. Lili Marlene September 30, 2005 at 15:06 #

    Bonnie, I don’t really think there is anything very unusual about going red in the face after being out in the cold. I thought that was just a kind of rebound effect following after the vasoconstriction normally caused by exposure to the cold. Isn’t that how Rudolph the Reindeer got his red nose, from being out in the snow?

  14. Bonnie Ventura September 30, 2005 at 17:54 #

    I don’t just turn red in the face, Lili Marlene, I get red blotches (and occasionally hives/welts) on any part of my skin that is exposed to the cold. The medical name for it is cold urticaria. There’s no treatment other than antihistamines, which I avoid because I had a nasty withdrawal reaction (feeling very jittery and anxious) after taking a sample of a prescription antihistamine for a week.

    I didn’t have this problem as a child; it developed after I took birth control pills in college, and I suspect it’s related to that.

  15. N. Kleind September 30, 2005 at 19:00 #

    And if the Inuit get cold and their faces and fingers and toes get all pink…temporarily, is it from the mercury laden fish they eat?

    Well of course! Must be!

  16. Camille October 4, 2005 at 00:42 #

    I had to email the Talkr people and tell them my Talkr function thing wasn’t working, I got an email back saying it was a glitch on their end and that it would work for me “now”. And it did! Yaaaay!

    I tried to click on your “podcast” link and I got the same Q with a question mark over it that I had before they fixed the whatever… so maybe you’ll have to email them… or maybe you already have. 🙂

  17. Kev October 4, 2005 at 08:44 #

    It seems OK to me…?

    What confused me (due to their badly worded Help page) initially was that it only seems to work for posts created _after_ you sign up.

    Its a bit weird listening to yourself (big hairy bloke from the West Midlands) talk in the dulcet tones of an American female!

  18. Camille October 6, 2005 at 09:16 #


    I think Talkr was working earlier, here on your blog, now it’s not working again (for me). Must be some goofy thing with my computer. I also thought their explanation said that old blog posts won’t be available to be read by Talkr, but lo and behold I have listened to several of the posts that were put up prior to getting Talkr. I’m not sure how retroactive it is though.

    I think Talkr had a fit over all the French in that one blog entry about Mottron and Michelle and Canada.

    I really think they ought to get a choice of voices for the readers. Interestingly, it seems that the first time the reader came across MIND it read it as “M.I.N.D.” and now it reads it as the word “mind”. It read “read” (present tense) as “red” instead of “reed”, which was weird.

    Still, pretty amazing! Anyone betting that an ASD person came up with the program?

  19. Carolyn February 3, 2006 at 03:11 #

    It is said that I had pinks disease in the 40’s, my dad was at sea and I know for a fact that my mother used a diaphragm as a method of contraception. Another site listed mercury in the birth control device and linked it to pink’s disease. Penicillin was just out at the time, they tried it and I got better.
    I am a lot of things, but not autistic at 62. Probably always had a learning disability, but not labeled as such. They always said I was so smart but didn’t apply myself. As an adult I know I learn by doing, not by reading about it! Adapt is the name of the game. I’m loaded with common sense and artistic, but not autistic. I’ve got to wonder now if my children were also exposed to mercury from vaccines….and there is a 78 year old retarded person in our family that had a film over her eyes at birth…the treatment at the time was many doses of mercury in the eyes. She’s legally blind, legally deaf with two hearing aides and a low IQ. Go figure.

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