Scientifically Unfeasible and Potentially Harmful Interventions

Man forcibly holding another manThere are some interventions which are scientifically unfeasible - such as homeopathy. 

There are some interventions which are potentially harmful - such as some medications.

And there are some interventions which are both scientifically unfeasible and potentially harmful.

We can't emphasise strongly enough that no good reason to try these interventions exists. But we don't expect you to take our word for it: here's the background and the evidence.


Chelation (also known as detoxification or detox) is a medical procedure used to remove toxic substance (such as heavy metals like mercury or lead) from the body. Chelation involves using one or more 'chelators' (chemicals such as DMSA, DMPS, EDTA, or N-acetylcysteine) to remove the toxic substances from the body.

According to one recent review of chelation as an intervention for people on the autism spectrum

'Chelation treatment aims to eliminate specific metals from the body. However, empirical evidence has yet to support the hypothesis that the core ASD symptoms are caused by the presence of such metals in the body. Because empirical evidence does not support the hypothesis that the core ASD symptoms are associated with specific levels of metals in the body, the use of chelation to remove metals from the body in order to ameliorate ASD symptoms could be seen as unfounded and illogical - Davis T. N. et al. (2013).

The same review reported that

'The chemical substances utilized in chelation treatment have a myriad of potential and  potentially serious, side effects, including fever, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, hypertension, hemorrhoid symptoms, metallic taste, hypotension, cardiac arrhythmias, hypocalcemia, the latter of which can in turn cause fatal cardiac arrest.  In 2005, for example, a 5-year-old boy with ASD died from cardiac arrest caused by hypocalcemia while receiving intravenous chelation. The potential safety risks associated with chelation recently resulted in a suspension of a clinical study of chelation treatment for autism. Additional safety issues arose from a rodent study that found lasting cognitive impairment' - Davis T. N. et al. (2013).

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) made the following recommendations:

  • 'Do not use chelation for the management of core symptoms of autism in adults.' - National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2012).
  • 'Do not use [chelation] to manage autism in any context in children and young people' - National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2013)

More Information

Please see our detailed evaluation of Chelation and Autism

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Holding therapy

Holding therapy is a type of attachment therapy used to help children who find it difficult to form a relationship with their mother. The therapy consists of forced holding by a therapist or parent either until the child stops resisting or until a fixed period has elapsed. The carer does not usually release their hold until the child 'surrenders' and looks into the carer's eyes. The carer then returns the child's gaze and exchanges affection.

We believe that the underlying theory for holding therapy, that the bond between mother and child is broken, is fundamentally flawed. We also believe that any intervention that involves force is potentially physically and psychologically harmful.

According to Mercer, 'Attachment therapy (AT) is a mental health intervention for children that involves physical restraint and discomfort. Practitioners base its use on the assumption that rage resulting from early frustration and mistreatment must be provoked and released in order for the child to form an emotional attachment and become affectionate and obedient' - Mercer J. (2002).

Despite claims from AT practitioners, there is no research evidence to support the use of AT. Furthermore, there is a risk of death and injury from AT - Mercer J. (2002), Boris N. W. (2003).

More Information

Please see our detailed evaluation of Holding Therapy and Autism

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Miracle mineral solution

Miracle mineral solution (MMS) is a 28% sodium chlorite solution diluted in lemon juice. This results in the formation of chlorine dioxide, a potent bleach, which is then either given as a drink or an enema. Some people think that it can be used to treat a number of unrelated conditions such as HIV, hepatitis, cancer, and autism.

No scientific evidence exists that shows miracle mineral solution is an effective intervention for any condition. Furthermore, ingesting bleach is harmful. The Food and Drug Administration in the US provides the following guidance:

"High oral doses of this bleach, such as those recommended in the labelling, can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and symptoms of severe dehydration. Consumers who have MMS should stop using it immediately and throw it away. The FDA advises consumers who have experienced any negative side effects from MMS to consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible" - US Food and Drug Administration (2010).

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Packing therapy

Packing therapy is an intervention where an individual is wrapped in towels previously soaked in cold water. While the child is wrapped, the therapist can take the opportunity to talk to the child about their feelings. The aim of this intervention is to help children to understand their bodily limits - Spinney L. (2007).

Packing therapy is scientifically implausible and potentially abusive. 'Against Le Packing: A consensus statement' signed by academics from around the world appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in February 2011 and concluded:

'We have reached the consensus that practitioners and families around the world should consider this approach unethical. Furthermore, this "therapy" ignores current knowledge about autism spectrum disorders; goes against evidence-based practice parameters and treatment guidelines published in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Hungary, and Australia; and, in our view, poses a risk of preventing these children and adolescents from accessing their basic human rights to health and education' - Amaral D. G. et al. (2011).

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Testosterone regulation

Testosterone regulation is the use of drugs to reduce the amount of testosterone in the body. It is sometimes used to treat prostate cancer or to help reduce sexually inappropriate behaviour. In autism, it is used because some people believe that autism is caused by heavy metals such as mercury. They believe that androgens, such as testosterone, increase the toxicity of mercury, so reducing the level of testosterone would reduce the effects of this toxicity.

No evidence shows that autism is caused by heavy metals such as mercury. Also, no evidence shows that testosterone regulation helps people with autism. Testosterone regulation could lead to irreversible damage to sexual functioning if administered to children or adolescents.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence reported: 'Do not use testosterone regulation for the management of core symptoms of autism in adults.' - National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2012)

More Information

Please see our detailed evaluation of Testosterone Regulation and Autism

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16 Jun 2022