Viral reports occasionally emerge online concerning people who use bleach to treat a variety of medical ailments. These treatment claims have their origins in a new age “church” that promotes a bleaching agent as a religiously protected “sacrament” capable of overcoming “most diseases known to mankind.”
While the chemical ingested as part of this dangerous treatment is not sodium hypochlorite (i.e., household bleach), it is a chlorine-based oxidizer used in industrial settings for sterilization and bleaching and is therefore correctly classified as a bleaching agent.
In general, those who utilize this inherently dangerous practice on themselves or their children do so based on the work of an individual frequently described as a cult leader: former Scientologist and current Archbishop of the “Genesis II Church of Health and Healing” Jim Humble. Humble promotes his chemical sacrament as the “Master Mineral Solution” (MMS), and on his personal website, Humble describes MMS as being the potential cure for (by our count) everything:
In 1996, while on a gold mining expedition in South America, I discovered that chlorine dioxide quickly eradicates malaria. Since that time, it has proven to restore partial or full health to hundreds of thousands of people suffering from a wide range of disease, including cancer, diabetes, hepatitis A, B, C, Lyme disease, MRSA, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, malaria, autism, infections of all kinds, arthritis, high cholesterol, acid reflux, kidney or liver diseases, aches and pains, allergies, urinary tract infections, digestive problems, high blood pressure, obesity, parasites, tumors and cysts, depression, sinus problems, eye disease, ear infections, dengue fever, skin problems, dental issues, problems with prostate (high PSA), erectile dysfunction and the list goes on. This is by far not a comprehensive list.
“I know it sounds too good to be true,” he wrote, “But according to feedback I have received over the last 20 years, I think it’s safe to say MMS has the potential to overcome most diseases known to mankind.”
One person who has taken this self-evidently absurd notion and run with it is a “bishop” of Humble’s church named Kerri Rivera, who claims that MMS enemas “cure” children of their autism by killing pathogens in their gut. (She charges $120 to teach you how to treat your child on her website “CD Autism”.) In January 2018, UK’s Mirror infiltrated a number of private discussions on Rivera's website describing the pain this treatment has caused children in the past:
In private messages to our investigator, a mum described how she has turned to chlorine dioxide in desperation. She explained how her two-year-old “cried really hard” when he was given his first enemas using a water bottle but how things are getting “better and better”.
The “active ingredient” in MMS is chlorine dioxide, a gas dissolved in water which acts as an oxidizer that can materially damage tissue, kill pathogens, and make things whiter. To generate this dissolved gas, MMS devotees start with the chemical sodium chlorite, dilute it in water to a concentration of 22.4%, and then “activate” it with citric acid, generating chlorine dioxide.
Humble and his supporters dispute the assertion that MMS is analogous to bleach because it is not the chemical sold as household liquid bleach (sodium hypochlorite). This is a scientifically unfounded argument, as both sodium chlorite (the “starter material” for MMS) and chlorine dioxide (the “active ingredient”) are, in a literal sense, chlorine-based bleaching agents. The word “bleach” does not refer specifically to a single chemical, but rather it describes the whitening action that certain oxidizing or reducing chemicals are able to effect on various substances. Like household bleach, sodium chlorite and chlorine dioxide are considered bleaching agents which utilize oxidation reactions as their main mode of action in several industrial uses:
The biggest use of chlorine dioxide is in bleaching wood pulp. In some mills, much of the chlorine and hypochlorite has been replaced by chlorine dioxide to reduce the amount of chlorinated by-products. Chlorine dioxide is also used to bleach textiles, flour, and edible fats and oils.
Sodium chlorite, on its own, is used to bleach fabric as well:
Sodium chlorite is also used to bleach some cotton and cotton–polyester fabrics. Unlike peroxide and hypochlorite, which only whiten the cotton portion of cotton–polyester blends, sodium chlorite also whitens polyester. However, the polyester portion usually does not need to be whitened. Sodium chlorite whitens better than hydrogen peroxide, does not damage fibers, and can be used with unscoured fabrics. However, it is more expensive, more corrosive to metals, and more hazardous than peroxide or hypochlorite.
Just because MMS does not contain sodium hypochlorite does not make it not a bleaching agent, nor does it make it safe to consume. The scientific rationale for MMS’s supposed efficacy in treating autism is flawed and contains what would be a laughable explanation for what autism is if not for the fact that people actually believe her.
On her website, Rivera suggests that autism is primarily caused by things in your gut, that the disease is “made up of” viruses, bacteria, parasites, yeast, heavy metals, inflammation and food allergies, and that “MMS is proven to kill pathogens through oxidation, and to neutralize heavy metal compounds.” Without these pathogens, Rivera argues, the body can “heal” the autism. The basic assumption is that whatever autism is, it is caused by a pathogen (probably a parasite, in her view) that MMS will kill.
Autism is a condition which has no known cure and which scientists believe to be the result of a complex melange of genetic and developmental factors. In the colorful words of Vice News, “Humble and Rivera [advocate MMS] as a lifestyle, thereby promoting the damaging idea that the complex neurological condition known as autism is essentially a gut problem that you can somehow power wash out of your body by pouring industrial bleach into both ends. And their followers believe them.”
The claims made by Humble and his followers have no foundation in science. The only place one can find support for their dangerous ideas is in books written by leaders of their so-called church. Speaking to reporters in 2016 about Rivera’s claims, Dr. Paul Wang, a pediatrician and the senior vice president of Autism Speaks, clarified that parasites do not cause autism. "No, parasites do not cause autism," Wang said. He added that Rivera “says that MMS is not a bleach, but it is."