Chelation Therapy

What is chelation?

It is a therapy designed to remove “heavy metals” from the body. Because heavy metals settle deep in body tissues, they aren’t easily excreted on their own –they require assistance. Hence the Greek-derived word chelation which means “to claw.” Chelators act as “clawing” agents to escort heavy metals out.

Why would someone accumulate heavy metals? Well, several hundred years ago it was very rare. (Although historically it’s thought that the demise of the Roman Empire might have been tied to lead poisoning from the mugs and cookware that they used. Their tap water contained 100 X as much lead as local spring water.)

Today with the advent of the Industrial Revolution 200+ years ago, heavy metals are everywhere thus exposing ALL of us. Think lead in gasoline or paint. Some work environments such as welding, painting or dental offices carry higher occupational exposure. If you have mercury fillings in your teeth (or amalgam fillings), have been vaccinated to prevent various diseases, eat farm-raised fish regularly, consume foods that are grown in foreign countries (like China) that aren’t certified organic, or are healing from radiation and chemotherapy treatments, you’re likely accumulating heavy metals right now to some degree.

What are the potential consequences of a high body burden of heavy metals? All heavy metals work in much the same way---they displace normal minerals thus bringing that enzyme or protein function to a grinding halt. Metals, including lead, mercury, aluminum and arsenic, can cause short- and long-term health consequences since they impact functions of the central nervous, cardiovascular, immune and skeletal systems. When the body is out of homeostasis due to experiencing imbalances in minerals, malfunction and damage to vital organs can develop.

Some possible symptoms of heavy metals include: Fatigue, brain fog, autoimmune illness, cognitive decline, joint/muscle pain and others.

How is chelation accomplished? The most effective heavy metal chelator is EDTA--ethylenediaminetetracetic acid. Only 5% of EDTA is absorbed orally so most chelating physicians administer this IV— usually directly injected into the bloodstream — so it can bind with excess minerals. After EDTA attaches to heavy metals, together they both move to the kidneys where they are eliminated from the body through urine.

First developed and used in the 1950s for the treatment of heavy metal poisoning, chelation therapy using EDTA is now performed to remove common heavy metals, including lead, copper, iron, arsenic, aluminum and calcium. While still a controversial practice in mainstream medicine and one that requires more research for us to fully understand how it works, studies show that chelation therapy has potential for reducing the risk of heightened inflammation, heart disease, infections and more.

Mercury is its own category because it does not respond well to EDTA chelation. Most chelating physicians use oral DMSA or IV DMPS for mercury. Both must be used very carefully as excessive use can pull out beneficial minerals.

There are several proposed mechanisms of action for EDTA. Exactly how and why it works is still being fully elucidated and it appears to work in more than just one way. It reduces free radicals. Free radicals damage the inside linings of blood vessels. Injury to the inside lining of a blood vessel is often the first step in atherosclerosis, (the build-up in arteries that causes blockages that lead to heart attacks and strokes.) In some forms of heart disease toxic metals such as mercury have been found at levels 22,000 times those of normal controls. Chelation removes heavy metals like mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and nickel from the lining of blood vessels. Since EDTA binds heavy metals it can prevent free radical damage to blood vessel walls. The NIH or national institutes of health just completed a $30,000,000 clinical trial studying the effects of chelation therapy. Called the TACT study it showed that chelation combined with vitamin/mineral therapy significantly decreased the chance of having a heart attack—especially in diabetics. New trials are being planned.

How common is chelation therapy? A National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 111,000 adults 18 years or older had used chelation therapy as a form of complementary medicine between the years 2006–2007. Since the popularity of chelation therapy has grown since this time and more health care professionals are being trained in this practice, it’s safe to say that this number is steadily rising.

What do patients report?

Chelation is FDA approved only for acute lead poisoning. However, chelation also appears to have many other benefits. In our experience, symptoms our patients have reported improvement in with chelation therapy include angina, claudication (pain in legs with walking), memory, ability to think, vision, energy, over all sense of well-being.

So anyone who would like to reduce their total toxic load could benefit. We live in a toxic world and many people have higher than normal levels of heavy metals in their body. Chelation therapy can help remove these toxins from our bodies. Anyone with a circulatory problem, whether it is the heart, the extremities, or the brain, may be a candidate for chelation therapy. Typical regimens are weekly for 30 sessions followed by monthly for another 10 sessions followed by quarterly indefinitely. However individual treatment regimens may be different depending on conditions.

The reader is directed to an excellent book by Elmer M. Cranton called Bypassing Bypass Surgery. Another excellent resource is Forty Something Forever: A Consumer’s Guide to Chelation Therapy, by Harold Brecher and Arline Brecher.