Chelation therapy originated as a treatment for acute heavy metal poisoning, and it is an FDA-approved treatment for those conditions. Chelation therapy works to rid the body of heavy metals, such as lead, copper, mercury and arsenic, by binding to those toxins and being expelled with them through urine or feces.
Besides acute exposure to heavy metals such as lead based paint and methylmercury contaminated fish and shellfish, heavy metal accumulation can occur in the human body over time, often as a result of exposure to those contaminants through dental work, food contamination and the surrounding environment.
In some individuals, this accumulation of metals may lead to uncomfortable symptoms, such as fatigue or memory loss. Depending on the individual and toxins involved, heavy metals in the system may also contribute to more serious conditions, such as the development of certain cancers and heart disease.
Along with heavy metal poisoning, chelation therapy is sometimes used to treat vascular diseases, including:
- Cerebrovascular disease (stroke)
- Heart disease
- Peripheral vascular disease (poor circulation)
What Chelation Therapy Does
Chelating agents are chemicals that bind tightly to heavy metals in the body and create a compound that can be flushed out of the system through urine or feces. Some health professionals also believe that chelation acts as a kind of antioxidant by purging the body of the metals that combine with LDL cholesterol in a process that can damage the arteries.
The most common type of chelation therapy involves a medication called EDTA, and it has been successfully used for more than 40 years in the treatment of lead poisoning. Though less common, DMPS chelation is another form of therapy that is also used to remove heavy metals such as mercury and lead.
Chelation therapy is typically delivered intravenously, which allows the binding agents to bypass the digestive system and work more rapidly. Chelating agents will also bind to essential minerals in the body, such as calcium. As a result, those who undergo chelation therapy will be asked to take additional mineral supplements during treatment.
Generally, a chelation therapy treatment takes 3-4 hours to complete. Since the body can only detoxify a certain amount of heavy metals at one time, a series of IV treatments may be required to fully cleanse the body. A course of chelation therapy may, therefore, take several weeks or months to complete, depending on the individual and his or her level of toxicity.
Chelation therapy side effects, if they occur, are usually quite mild. Being well hydrated and eating prior to chelation therapy should help minimize any potential side effects. If a treatment is scheduled to last longer than one hour, patients are encouraged to bring a nutritious snack.
This type of treatment is not advised for certain sensitive populations, including children or women who are pregnant or nursing.