Would you ever consider swallowing bleach or turpentine? What about giving yourself an enema with bleach? To most of us this sounds horrible, but a small group of well-meaning but terribly misguided parents is choosing to feed their children these toxic substances in hopes of curing everything from the common cold to autism.
While small amounts of bleach can get your white clothes white, and turpentine can strip paint and varnish off furniture, no adult or child should ever ingest either of these substances in any form. As a pediatrician and a parent I can’t imagine ever feeding my child or a patient bleach or turpentine. I’ve struggled to understand why any loving parent would ever feed them to their children.
What’s most concerning about this trend for me is that parents are doing this because they believe bleach or turpentine will cure their children. In addition many parents mistake the signs of significant damage (chemical burns, shedding of the intestinal lining, lethargy etc…) as signs that the bleach and turpentine are effectively ridding their child’s body of ‘toxins’. In fact it’s just the opposite.
One of the most troubling uses of these substances is as a “cure” for autism. While no one knows the exact cause of autism, it is likely a genetic change in the brain that happens in utero. That means there is no cure. There are behavioral and developmental interventions that work very well but again, there is no cure. Furthermore, most people with autism don’t appreciate being considered damaged or in need of a cure in the first place.
Regardless, parents should absolutely stay away from any unconventional ‘treatment’ for autism or otherwise. The most well known form this ‘treatment’ takes is Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS). The main ingredient in MMS, which was/is marketed primarily to parents of children with autism, is alternatively chlorine dioxide (CD) or sodium chlorite (SC), which is commonly used for disinfecting water. The makers of MMS believe that autism (as well as cancer, AIDS, malaria, the common cold and asthma) is not caused by genetic factors, but pathogens (yeast, parasites, bacteria), heavy metals, inflammation, food allergies or a combination of the above. The makers of MMS believe if you ingest diluted bleach, your body will be rid of these substances and you’ll be “cured” of autism.
Besides the dangerous side effects listed below, there are no controlled, peer-reviewed studies to back up the claim that MMS is safe, effective or curative. It should be noted the makers of MMS were found guilty of selling CD for human consumption, which is strictly prohibited.
It doesn’t take much SC to reach toxic levels, as little as 10-15 grams can be toxic for an adult. In the case of CD, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has set a maximum limit of 0.8mg/l for water purification. Based on the MMS dosing protocol, children receive more than 120 times the limit for water purification in each dose. By the way as far as turpentine goes … take my word: don’t ingest it.
Swallowing the quantities of these chemicals ‘recommended’ by any of the websites that advertise their use can cause irritation of the mouth, esophagus and stomach. One may experience stomach ache, nausea, vomiting and blood in the stool. Because CD is so damaging to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, inducing vomiting in someone who has ingested the substance is not recommended. Ingestion can also cause methemoglobinemia, which replaces oxygen in the blood and results in cyanosis and poor oxygenation. As a gas, if inhaled, chlorine-based products can cause irritation all through the respiratory tract and result in wheezing, cough and chest tightness. Repeated exposure to chlorine-based gases can cause chronic bronchitis and even death.
As I mentioned before, what’s so painful about this trend is that parents often misinterpret the symptoms of CD poisoning as evidence of a cure. Parents misinterpret the chemical burns as toxins exiting the body; intestinal linings excreted in the toilet are misidentified as parasites; vomiting is misinterpreted as the body forcibly ridding itself of impurities. Chlorine dioxide literally can dissolve human tissue. That means that giving children 120 times the safe level of CD is dissolving their entire GI tract. Worse, if inhaled during the process, it is also damaging their respiratory tract.
Don’t be fooled by the notion of “rope worm parasites”, which many believe they find in the toilet after ingesting these chemicals. They don’t exist. If you feed your child MMS or use the enema and a long rope-like structure comes out of the rectum, it is not a newly discovered parasite devoid of any parasite-containing elements, it is the lining of the GI tract that you have just burned away. When tested, these “worms” contained human DNA. Furthermore, there is no evidence that autism, the common cold or cancer are caused by parasites.
While parasitic infections do exist, their symptoms usually don’t present in the same way as the common cold or, say, leukemia (that’s a wide berth). Many who tout the use of turpentine or bleach cures claim they are avoiding paying pharmaceutical companies high prices for drugs. The good news is that most parasitic infections are easily prevented at a low cost by using simple soap and water and mosquito control.
If you have questions or concerns about symptoms your child is experiencing, I ask you as a parent and a pediatrician to please talk to your health care provider, do not attempt to treat them at home with any of these dangerous methods. No matter how good your intentions, you’ll never forgive yourself for the death or permanent injury of your child.
*UPDATE: After this was posted, Dr. Friedman responded to a reader’s question about whether bleach baths were safe for Eczema: “If your child’s physician recommends it, bleach baths are great for bacteria on the skin. Kids with eczema who have exacerbations due to skin bacteria do very well with bleach baths. However the bleach is diluted in the bath (1/8-1/4 cup) and NOT consumed.”