Your 2020 Guide to Chelation Therapy: Benefits, Risks & Costs
Looking for a complete guide to chelation therapy? Find out more about its research-backed benefits, risks, and costs!
There has been a lot of talk about the supposed benefits of chelation therapy – but is there any truth to these claims?
Over 100,000 Americans use chelation therapy every year.
However, the treatment does not come cheap – or without serious safety risks.
In this article, we will walk you through everything you need to know about chelation therapy, including the potential risks, benefits, and the research behind using it as a complementary approach to coronary heart disease treatment.
What is Chelation?
Chelation is a type of bonding of ions and molecules to metal ions.
It involves the formation of two or more separate coordinate bonds between a multiple-bonded ligand and a single central atom.
Chelation has wide-spread medical, industrial, and agricultural applications, including chelation therapy.
How Chelation Therapy Works
Chelation therapy uses special drugs that bind to particular metals in your blood, which are then removed from your body through urine.
These drugs can be taken through an intravenous (IV) tube.
A full IV treatment requires 20 to 40 supervised infusions, lasting several hours each.
Chelation drugs are also available in the form of pills.
However, you should avoid taking over-the-counter chelation pills without consulting with your doctor, as they can have serious and potentially life-threatening effects.
A variety of chelating agents with different affinities for different metals can be used in chelation therapy.
Metals that can be removed with chelation therapy include lead, mercury, and arsenic.
Chelation therapy has frequently been used to treat iron overload and severe lead poisoning.
However, research suggests that chelation therapy may have more benefits than that, including an alternative treatment of coronary heart disease.
The Research-Backed Benefits of Chelation Therapy
Chelation therapy is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved treatment for heavy metal poisoning.
What is heavy metal poisoning?
Heavy metal poisoning refers to excessive exposure to heavy metals (lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium), which affects the normal functioning of the body.
Heavy metal poisoning can result from sudden, severe exposure or prolonged chronic exposure.
Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning vary, depending on the metal involved, the amount absorbed, and the physical health of the person exposed.
Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Long-term exposure may cause significant damage to organs and increase the risk of various cancers.
How chelation therapy helps
Chelation therapy has been proven to be an effective treatment for reducing the toxic effects of all heavy metals.
The most commonly known chelating agent is calcium disodium ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (CaNa2EDTA).
It has been shown to be very effective in the case of lead poisoning, as well as for the treatment of poisoning of metals that have a higher affinity for a chelating agent than Ca2+.
Calcium or zinc trisodium diethylenetriaminepentaacetate (CaNa3DTPA or ZnNa3DTPA respectively), have been used in cases of plutonium and other transuranic elements like californium, americium, and curium, poisoning.
D-Penicillamine has been shown to be effective in treating lead, mercury, and copper poisoning.
However, all of these chelating agents have also been shown to have substantial risks, including renal failures, arrhythmias, tetany, hypocalcemia, hypotension, bone marrow depression, prolonged bleeding time, convulsions, and respiratory arrest.
A new, promising trend in chelation therapy shows the potential for more efficient metal mobilization from the body, reduction of potentially toxic chelators, and no redistribution of toxic metal from one organ to another.
Other potential uses
The benefits of chelation therapy for other uses, such as treating Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, are highly controversial and not backed by science.
Chelation therapy may have some benefits for patients with heart disease, but more research is required to substantiate this claim.
Who Can Benefit from Chelation Therapy?
Chelation therapy is a legitimate treatment for patients who struggle with heavy metal poisoning.
If you have been exposed to high levels of mercury or other heavy metals, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options.
Your doctor will order a blood test to determine if chelation therapy is the best course of action.
Since chelation therapy is often accompanied by fairly serious side effects, the heavy metal levels in your blood need to be fairly high to justify its use.
For example, most people are exposed to low levels of mercury, often through chronic exposure.
A doctor is unlikely to prescribe any type of mercury detox, including chelation therapy, for anyone who’s blood mercury levels do not exceed 9 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ML).
A level between 10 and 15 ng/mL indicates mild exposure, while anything over 50 ng/mL may indicate heavy exposure to mercury – requiring additional treatment such as chelation therapy.
There is some evidence that chelation therapy may also be helpful to heart disease patients.
Chelation Therapy and Coronary Heart Disease
Chelation therapy using disodium ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid (EDTA) hs also been used as a complementary health approach to treat coronary heart disease.
EDTA binds to calcium in your blood vessels to clear them out and increase blood flow to the heart.
Only one large study of chelation therapy for coronary heart disease has been completed: the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT).
The study examined 1708 people over the age of 50 who had already had at least 1 heart attack.
They were randomly assigned to receive 40 EDTA or placebo treatments, as well as a high-dose of vitamins and minerals (or placebo pills).
The effects of chelation therapy
Chelation therapy produced a modest reduction in cardiovascular events; however, only in people with diabetes.
People with diabetes (who made up about one-third of the participants) showed a 41% reduction in the risk of any cardiovascular event.
They also showed a 40% reduction in the risk of death from heart disease, a 52% reduction in recurrent heart attacks, and a 43% reduction in death (from any cause) over a period of 5 years.
The effects of vitamins/minerals
The effects of the high-dose vitamins and minerals were less clear.
Their use appeared to be safe but did not reduce cardiovascular events on its own.
However, the researchers note that these conclusions are not as reliable due to the fact that many people stopped taking their vitamin/placebo pills early.
Overall, when all four study groups were compared, the group receiving chelation therapy plus vitamins/minerals showed the fewest cardiovascular events.
Questions and concerns
TACT has been embroiled in controversy ever since it was proposed.
Questions about possible ethics violations and the safety of chemicals used in the research abound.
It is also unclear why the benefit of chelation therapy would be almost exclusively contained to people with diabetes.
The second round of TACT (TACT2) is currently in progress.
It aims to repeat the first TACT study in patients with diabetes who have had a heart attack to see if the apparent benefits of chelation therapy can be confirmed.
Potential Side Effects of Chelation Therapy
Keep in mind that chelation therapy has not been approved by the FDA as a method of treating coronary heart disease.
It has been approved for treating mercury, lead, and other types of heavy-metal poisoning, as well as for iron overload (hemochromatosis) and some types of anemia.
Unfortunately, chelation drugs can bind to and remove some substances that your body needs, such as calcium, copper, and zinc.
Potential side effects of chelation therapy include hypocalcemia (abnormally low blood calcium levels), damage to the kidneys, as well as significant mineral deficiencies.
Some people also experience a burning sensation in the IV area (e.g., their arm), fever, headaches, and nausea.
The FDA has warned the public to avoid over-the-counter chelation products, such as dietary supplements, nasal sprays, or suppositories.
These products may have serious unknown side effects and may be harmful to those who choose to rely on them instead of seeking professional medical help.
Finally, keep in mind that, when it comes to heart disease, no treatment can take the place of healthy living.
The American Heart Association recommends following “Life’s Simple 7” lifestyle changes to achieve ideal cardiovascular health regardless of other treatments.
How Much Does Chelation Therapy Cost?
A typical treatment session can cost anywhere between $75 and $125 dollars.
People typically undergo dozens of these infusions in the span of a few months, which brings the total cost of a full treatment cycle to at least $5,000.
Chelation therapy is not covered by most healthcare providers.
It is, however, cheaper and less invasive than surgical interventions such as heart bypass surgery or coronary stent placement, and can be utilized in conjunction with those treatments.
Finally, it is also important to consider the costs of treating potential side effects, such as severe kidney damage or hypocalcemia.
The costs of prolonged hospitalization due to hypocalcemia can range from $2,500 to more than $8,000.
The benefits of chelation therapy sound promising, but there’s significantly more research to be done before it becomes a mainstream treatment for heart disease.
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American Heart Association, “My Life Check | Life’s Simple 7,” May 2, 2018., Harvard Medical School, “Chelation therapy offers small, if any, benefit for heart disease,” March 26, 2013., American Heart Journal, “Design and Methodology of the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT),” January 2012., World Health Organization, “Mercury and health,” March 31, 2017., International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Chelation in Metal Intoxication,” July 7, 2010., Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, “Heavy metal poisoning,” April 27, 2017.