Chelation is the use of bonding agents to remove heavy metals from the body. Military organizations began using chelation therapy in the 1940s to help rid soldiers of arsenic and lead in their bloodstreams that they acquired from environmental or work exposure. Chelation therapy is also used to alleviate iron, copper and mercury poisoning in other settings. EDTA, or ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid, is used intravenously in chelation therapy.
Health chelation therapy is used to break up plaque in the arteries of people with coronary artery disease. The coronary arteries, which bring oxygenated blood to the heart, become blocked by plaque, which is made of cholesterol. Less oxygen goes to the heart because not as much blood can move through the arteries when they become narrowed, causing pain and heart attacks.
EDTA, which is used in chelation therapy, is a manufactured amino acid that binds with the metals and causes them to be excreted in the urine. Since EDTA also binds to, or chelates, calcium, health professionals use this therapy to remove calcium deposits from arteries. They figure that the remaining plaque breaks up, which helps unclog the narrowed arteries.
Another theory states that chelation causes the release of a hormone which enables calcium to be removed from the arteries or reduces cholesterol levels. A third theory is that chelation therapy works by reducing the effects of oxygen ions (atoms or molecules) on the walls of the blood vessels, which reduces swelling in the arteries and improves blood flow.
Chelation therapy can last up to four hours. A urine test may be required following the first chelation. Patients usually receive between five and thirty treatments the first month and can continue preventive treatment once a month. Health-care providers give the treatments intravenously through the arm. Therapy is suggested for every other day, along with lab work to determine cholesterol, triglyceride and kidney-function levels after every five treatments.
Although rare, chelation with EDTA can cause kidney damage and failure, bone marrow depression, shock, low blood pressure, convulsions, heart rhythm problems, allergic reactions and loss of respiratory function. Less-serious side effects may include burning at the IV site, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. The American Heart Association does not endorse this therapy and states that further study is needed to determine the safety of the procedure.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine sponsored and collaborated on the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy to check the safety and effectiveness of this therapy in approximately 1700 individuals with coronary artery disease. Presently, the study is in phase III, where participants receive either 40 doses of EDTA or 40 doses of a placebo (a nondrug) to determine whether beneficial effects are psychological. This study started in September 2003 and will end in June 2012.
Questions and Answers About Chelation Therapy [http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3000843]
Chelation at The Bolles Clinic [http://www.bollesclinic.com/chelatio.shtml]
Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT) [http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00044213]
What to Expect from Chelation Therapy? [http://stason.org/TULARC/health/alternative-medicine/What-to-Expect-from-Chelation-Therapy.html]
Questions and Answers: The NIH Trial of EDTA Chelation Therapy for Coronary Artery Disease [http://nccam.nih.gov/health/chelation/q-and-a.htm#effects]