Fringe groups continue to promote a bleach-based treatment to cure autism. However, medical experts say ingesting bleach can cause serious health problems.
Desperate parents in the United Kingdom, Canada, and United States are reportedly using a bleach solution in an attempt to cure autism, sometimes in children as young as 2 years old.
Proponents have touted chlorine dioxide (often referred to as simply CD) or Miracle/Master Mineral Solution (MMS) as a cure to everything from HIV to autism.
The bleach solution — and, yes, it is bleach — is typically administered orally, but enemas and even a bath are encouraged procedures.
MMS caused a stir this month when police in the United Kingdom investigated parents giving the solution to their children.
Meanwhile, in Canada, two individuals have been charged with selling MMS, despite warnings from the government.
The popularity of MMS can be largely attributed to Jim Humble, a cultish figure and ex-Scientologist who is part of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing.
Humble’s church has its roots in and around the Los Angeles area. Secretive groups in that area using MMS were investigated as recently as 2016 by reporters.
Members of those groups believe that autism is caused by a multitude of factors, including viruses and bacteria in the body. Group members believe MMS kills off those pathogens and cures autism.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department told Healthline that he was unaware of any prior or ongoing investigations related to parents using MMS on children.
According to Humble, who says he discovered chlorine dioxide in 1996, the chemical destroys pathogens and poisons, allowing the body to heal itself naturally.
It’s an established scientific fact that bleach is bactericidal, hence its common use as a household and industrial cleaner.
But the practice of using MMS, particularly in children, has been met with collective shock, outside of the fringe groups that promote it.
“This sort of practice has been around for some time and it just sort of crops up now and again when someone supposedly invents a new product that cures whatever disease they say it does,” said Dr. Cyrus Rangan, a medical toxicologist and assistant medical director of the California Poison Control System.
“Usually there’s no evidence for it, but they sort of prey on these families who are just looking for cures or treatments,” Rangan told Healthline.
Rangan was not familiar with incidents involving MMS specifically.
However, he has dealt with plenty of cases involving bleach ingestion, both intentional and unintentional.
“Any amount of bleach and any concentration of bleach is capable of causing a chemical burn, and so the bottom line is that there really shouldn’t be any exposure,” he said.
Different kinds of bleach can be found almost everywhere in everyday life. They are in cleaning products, laundry detergents, swimming pools, and even drinking water.
But, these chemicals are still dangerous, particularly for young children.
“Bleach is a very corrosive chemical. It eats away at the mucous layer inside our mouths, throats, and down further in our gastrointestinal system. Then, it can work its way into the deeper tissues and potentially even cause injury through the entire GI system,” said Rangan.
In the worst cases, corrosion of the GI tract can lead to internal bleeding and injury that may necessitate hospitalization and surgery.
Consuming bleach can also lead to vomiting, which, Rangan warns, makes the situation more dangerous.
If bleach or vomit get into the respiratory tract, complications can be life threatening.
In short: consuming bleach in any capacity is not a good idea. That goes for enemas and other applications which can also lead to chemical burns on the skin and internal organs.
The fact that parents are willing to go to such lengths, even if they don’t perceive the use of MMS as dangerous, also signifies an important reality about autism.
Its causes and treatments can leave parents feeling helpless.
“Autism is a really complex disorder, and because we don’t have a single specific cause, there is likely to be a multitude of factors that are contributing to the heterogeneity in autism. That leaves parents vulnerable, not knowing why their child has this disorder and, necessarily, what treatments are going to be most effective,” said Grace Baranek, PhD, a professor and an expert on autism spectrum disorder at the University of Southern California (USC).
Both MMS and other conspiratorial ideas, such as the now widely debunked link between autism and vaccinations, seem to indicate prevalent misunderstandings about the condition.
As well as frustration.
“Whenever you have a lot of unknowns, I think people are searching for answers and are searching for ways to help their children. Parents of kids with autism are a lot like all parents. We want what’s best for our kids and we would go to the ends of the Earth to do whatever we think might be helpful,” said Baranek.
For now, MMS remains widely available over the internet, where it can be purchased alongside testimonials from parents and patients who swear by its healing power.
“There’s certainly no evidence that says that bleach can reverse signs and symptoms of autism,” said Rangan.
If you or a family member accidentally ingests bleach or other harmful chemicals, you should contact the United States Poison Control center at 1-800-222-1222 or call 911.