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Chelation Therapy


 

What is chelation therapy?

Chelation therapy involves the use of chemical compounds injected into the blood stream , muscle or taken by mouth to bind metals that are present in toxic concentrations so they can be excreted (usually in urine) from the body.


What are legitimate uses for chelation therapy?

Chelation therapy is medically indicated when toxic levels of heavy metals such as iron, arsenic, lead, and mercury are present. While iron is a vital metal the other metals (arsenic, lead, and mercury) are not required by the body.

  • Lead toxicity most commonly occurs with young children exposed to old houses with lead paint dust or chips. Occupational exposure (soldering, welders, smelters, battery reclamation) is also a risk. Lead screening for children has now become a standard part of a doctor's visit for children in may states.

  • Mercury toxicity almost always occurs with high risk occupational exposures including dental workers, manufacturers of batteries/ thermometers, tannery work/taxidermy, and contaminated seafood.

  • Arsenic poisoning usually occurs from exposure to insecticides, herbicides, rodent poisons, veterinary parasitic medications, or intentional poisoning.

Other heavy metals, mentioned only in passing because toxic exposure is extremely uncommon, include: cadmium, manganese, aluminum, cobalt, zinc, nickel, copper and magnesium.

Heavy metal toxicity can cause a wide range of problems including severe injury to the body organs and the brain.

Common chelating agents include:

  • Desfuroxamine Mesylate: used for iron toxicity, intravenous preferred route of administration.

  • Dimercaprol (BAL): lead, preferred agent for arsenic & mercury toxicity, given intramuscularly

  • DMSA: an analogue of Dimercaprol that can be given orally for lead and arsenic poisoning

  • D-penicillamine: an oral chelating agent used for lead, arsenic, or mercury poisoning. Much less expensive but not as effective as DMSA.

  • Calcium Disodium Versante (CaNa2-EDTA): can be used in conjunction with BAL in lead toxicity. Never used alone in treating lead toxicity because chelates only extracellular, not intracellular lead.

Diagnosis of heavy metal toxicity is serious and must be made by a physician based on clinical symptoms in conjunction with laboratory testing. Chelating agents are potentially toxic and should not be used unless absolutely indicated. Chelation therapy is heavy duty stuff!


Can chelation therapy be dangerous?

Absolutely! All chelating agents have both minor and potentially life threatening side effects. They must be used under the supervision of a physician in a hospital setting.

Side effects of CaNa2-EDTA include: 2

  • Kidney damage (especially if dehydrated)

  • Chelation of essential minerals (iron, copper, zinc). Calcium also chelated but to much lesser extent than these other essential metals.

  • Skin peeling and blisters

  • Minor (headache, chills, fever, fatigue, muscle aches

We focus on CaNa2-EDTA because it is by far the most commonly used chelating agent promoted by quack practitioners for uses other than proven heavy metal poisoning. It must be remembered that although CaNa2-EDTA was one of the first agents available, it is no longer the treatment of choice for any heavy metal toxicity.


What are quack claims for chelation therapy? 1

After EDTA was found effective in chelating and removing toxic metals from the blood, some scientists postulated that hardened arteries could be softened if the calcium in their walls was removed. The first indication that EDTA treatment might benefit patients with atherosclerosis came from Clarke, Clarke, and Mosher, who, in 1956, reported that patients with occlusive peripheral vascular disease said they felt better after treatment with EDTA.

In 1960, Meltzer et al., who had studied ten patients with angina pectoris, reported that there was no objective evidence of improvement in any of them that could be ascribed to the course of EDTA chelation treatment. However, during the next two months, most of the patients began reporting unusual improvement in their symptoms. Prompted by these results, Kitchell et al. studied the effects of chelation on 28 additional patients and reappraised the course of the ten patients used in the original trial [2]. They found that although 25 of the 38 patients had exhibited improved anginal patterns and half had shown improvement in electrocardiographic patterns several months after the treatment had begun, these effects were not lasting. At the time of the report, 12 of the 38 had died and only 15 reported feeling better. (This "improvement" was not significant, however, because it was no better than would be expected with proven methods and because there was no control group for comparison.) Kitchell et al. concluded that EDTA chelation, as used in this study, was "not a useful clinical tool in the treatment of coronary disease."

Unproven Claims

Proponents claim that chelation therapy is effective against atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, and peripheral vascular disease. Its supposed benefits are multiple and include increased collateral blood circulation; decreased blood thickness; improved cell membrane function; improved intracellular organelle function; decreased arterial vasospasm; decreased free radical formation; inhibition of the aging process; reversal of atherosclerosis; decrease in angina; reversal of gangrene; improvement of skin color, healing of diabetic ulcers. 1

Proponents also claim that chelation is effective against arthritis; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson's disease; psoriasis; Alzheimer's disease; and problems with vision, hearing, smell, muscle coordination, and sexual potency. 1

The primary claim currently in vogue is that chelation dissolves calcium deposits present in plaques that clog and plug up arteries. There is absolutely no known agent that can "dissolve" atherosclerotic plaques and reverse "hardening of the arteries. These plaques are very complex and consist of thickening of the muscular wall of the artery in addition to calcium and cholesterol deposits. If there was a magic potion it would be a sure bet that pharmaceutical companies and legitimate doctors would be using it!

Furthermore, CaNa2-EDTA is only effective in chelating extracellular heavy metals ( that found dissolved in blood and other body fluids outside of cells).

Various studies have been cited by supporters of chelation therapy for atherosclerosis; however, none of these claimed benefits has been demonstrated by well-designed clinical trials.

The "Approved" Protocol- NOT 1

The primary organization promoting chelation therapy is the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM), which was founded in 1973 as the American Academy for Medical Preventics. Since its inception, ACAM's focus has been the promotion of chelation therapy. The group conducts courses, sponsors the American Journal of Advancement of Medicine, and administers a "board certification" program that is not recognized by the scientific community. The 1998 edition of Encyclopedia of Medical Organizations and Agencies states that ACAM had 535 members.

In 1989, an ACAM protocol for "the safe and effective administration of EDTA chelation therapy" was included in Cranton's "textbook," a 420-page special issue of the journal that contains 28 articles and a foreword by Linus Pauling. The protocol calls for intravenous infusion of 500 to 1,000 ml of a solution containing 50 mg EDTA per kilogram of body weight, plus heparin, magnesium chloride, a local anesthetic (to prevent pain at the infusion site), several B-vitamins, and 4 to 20 grams of vitamin C. This solution is infused slowly over 3.5 to 4 hours, one to three times a week. The initial recommendation is about 30 such treatments, with the possibility of additional ones later. Additional vitamins, minerals, and other substances-prescribed orally-"vary according to preferences of both patients and physicians." Lifestyle modification, which includes stress reduction, caffeine avoidance, alcohol limitation, smoking cessation, exercise, and nutritional counseling, is encouraged as part of the complete therapeutic program. The number of treatments to achieve "optimal therapeutic benefit" for patients with symptomatic disease is said to range from 20 ("minimum"), 30 (usually needed), or 40 ("not uncommon" before benefit is reported") to as many as 100 or more over a period of several years. "Full benefit does not normally occur for up to 3 months after a series is completed," the protocol states -- and "follow-up treatments may be given once or twice monthly for long-term maintenance, to sustain improvement and to prevent recurrence of symptoms." The cost, typically $75 to $125 per treatment, is not covered by most insurance companies. Some chelationists, in an attempt to secure coverage for their patients, misstate on their insurance claims that they are treating heavy-metal poisoning.

In 1997, ACAM issued a revised protocol describing the same procedures but adding circumstances (contraindications) under which chelation should not be performed. As in 1989, the document gives no criteria for determining: (1) who should be treated, (2) how much treatment should be given, or (3) how to tell whether the treatment is working.


Conclusion

Chelation therapy should only be used for heavy metal toxicity that has been diagnosed by a reputable physician. It has no place in reversal or prevention of atherosclerosis, angina, high blood pressure, poor circulation or other cardiovascular (heart diseases).

CaNa2-EDTA can leach out other essential metals such as iron, zinc, copper and magnesium from the blood causing adverse health effects while having no effect on calcified atherosclerotic plaques.

Although we do not wish to minimize problems caused by heavy metal toxicity it generally is quite rare and normally requires specific exposure or risk factors. A vast majority of people do not come into significant contact with toxic heavy metals.

If any person solicits your business claiming that heavy metal toxicity might be a problem for you and wants to do testing and treatment our advice is to turn away and run. If you are concerned you might have risk factors or exposure to toxic heavy metals visit a reputable physician.

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Resources

1. "Chelation Therapy- Unproven Claims and Unsound Theories" by Saul Green, Ph.D. @: http://www.quackwatch.com provides a comprehensive review of chelation therapy well worth reviewing for those interested in learning more)

2. "Heavy Metals" by Marsha D. Ford in: Emergency Medicine- A Comprehensive Review, 4th ed., Tintinalli, JE., Ruiz, E., and RL. Krome editors, 1996, pp.833-841


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