Chelation therapy

5 mins read

Origin And Meaning
The term “chelation” comes from the Greek word ‘chele’, meaning “claw,” which infers to the way the chemical grabs onto metals. Chelation therapy is an alternative treatment that involves administration of chelating agents to remove heavy metals from the body.

Chelation therapy originated in the 1940s, when Ferdinand Munz, a German chemist while working for I.G.Farben, first synthesized ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA). Munz was looking for a replacement to citric acid as a water softener. This therapy began during Second World War when University of Oxford chemists searched for an antidote for lewisite, an arsenic-based chemical weapon.  The chemists learned that EDTA was effective in treating lead poisoning.

Scientific/medical name: Drugs used primarily for chelation are ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) and edetate sodium; other drugs for chelation may include succimer (DMSA, 2, 3-dimercaptosuccinic acid), dimercaprol, deferoxamine, and penicillamine.

How is Chelation therapy beneficial?
Chelation therapy is used to treat poisoning from toxic levels of certain metals.

  • This includes acute mercury, iron (including in cases of thalassemia), lead and other forms of toxic metal poisoning.
  • Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) injections or other chemicals bind, or chelate, iron, lead, mercury, cadmium, zinc, and some other metals, which are then eliminated from the body through urine.
  • Chelation therapy has also been used as an alternative treatment for many medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, gangrene, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, autism, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease etc.
  • The therapy is said to be effective in improving memory, sight, hearing and smell.

Are there any studies/research on efficacy?

  • A study on Calcium-disodium EDTA chelation was done by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicinefor treating coronary diseases.
  • In 1998, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) pursued the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM), an organization that promotes “alternative, complementary,  and integrative medicine” that made claims regarding the treatment of atherosclerosis in advertisements for EDTA chelation therapy. The FTC concluded that to support these claims and the statements by the ACAM there was no proper evidence and scientific results.
  • In 1999, the ACAM agreed to seize presenting chelation therapy as effective in treating heart disease, avoiding legal proceedings.
  • In 2010 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned companies who sold over-the-counter (OTC) chelation products and stated that such “products are unapproved drugs and devices and that it is a violation of federal law to make unproven claims about these products.
  • According to the findings of a 1997, EDTA chelation therapy is not effective as a treatment for coronary artery disease and this use is not approved in the United States by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Various possible mechanisms for its efficacy have been proposed, but none have been scientifically proved.
  • There is “no scientific evidence to demonstrate any benefit from this form of therapy,” states TheAmerican Heart Association. The US FDA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the American College of Cardiology  all agree with the American Heart Association that “there have been no controlled, adequate, published scientific studies using currently approved scientific methodology to support this therapy for cardiovascular disease.”

How is Chelation therapy done?

  • Chelation therapy is generally given intravenously, either as a short injection or over a time period of 2 to 4 hours. Usually EDTA is administered slowly through an IV.
  • A complete course of EDTA chelation therapy consists of about 20 to 50 treatments, usually done one to three times per week.
  • This therapy can also be given in the form of oral medication.

How can you get started with chelation therapy?
The chelating agents will be administered with the help of intravenous, intramuscular, or oral medication, depending on the agent and the type of poisoning.

  • Chelation therapy using EDTA has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for lead poisoning for more than forty years.
  • The human body cannot excrete some metals, which in turn build up to toxic levels and result in abnormal functioning. EDTA and other chelating drugs lower the blood levels of metals such as mercury, lead, zinc cadmium, by binding to them, thereby helping by expelling them through urination.
  • Calcium-disodium EDTA and DMSA (Dimercaptosuccinic acid) are only approved for the removal of lead by the FDA while DMPS (2,3-dimercaptopropanesulfonic acid) and TTFD (thiamine tetrahydrofurfuryl disulfide) are not approved by FDA. These drugs bind to heavy metals in the body. They are then excreted from the body.
  • The chelating process also removes nutrients such as vitamins C and E, so these must be supplemented externally.

Any precautions, contraindications and interactions?

  • Children, women who are breastfeeding, pregnant women and people who have heart or kidney failure should not undergo chelation therapy.
  • Chelation products, even when used under medical supervision, can cause serious systemic harm like kidney failure, dehydration problems and may sometimes lead to death.
  • The agents may also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and low blood pressure.
  • Since the therapy removes minerals from the body, this may lead to low calcium levels (hypocalcemia) and bone damage.
  • Chelation therapy may also impair the immune system and decrease the body’s ability to produce insulin.
  • At the site of EDTA injection patients may also develop pain.
  • Every chelating drug can cause its own adverse effect; such as allergies, coma, seizures, decreased blood pressure, and infections, and should only be used under close medical supervision.

1. McKay CA Jr. Introduction to special issue: use and misuse of metal chelation therapy. J Med Toxicol.2013 Dec; 9(4):298-300.doi: 10.1007/s13181-013-0346-3.PubMed: 24248425;

2. Gumienna‐Kontecka, Elzbieta, Henryk, Nurchi, Valeria M, Szebesczyk, Agnieszka, Bilska, Paulina, Karolina, Kozlowski, Krzywoszynska. Zeitschrift fur anorganische und allgemeine Chemie, Volume 639, Numbers 8-9, 1 July 2013, pp.1321-1331(11)Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell.


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